By Tracy Wilson, July 28, 2013, The Columbian
What will determine whether Washington state steps up on to the world’s economic stage or stagnates for the next half-century is of no concern.
A desperate effort is underway to make the debate over the proposed Millennium Export Terminal in Longview about anything other than trade and economic development.
Opponents purposely ignore the fact coal has moved through our region safely for more than 100 years. They don’t mention that the Millennium Terminal also supports Washington jobs at Weyerhaeuser Paper and the Alcoa Aluminum Plant in Wenatchee.
Peoples’ economic well-being doesn’t matter to many of the critics, only worries of all things environmental, too often, more perceived than palpable. But they are no fools, and the tactic they have is the one they know will kill the jobs a new terminal could bring: Using red tape to block development without cause by expanding the existing review process for infrastructure investments.
They would like everyone to forget that Washington state’s world-class environmental rules have proved more than adequate for infrastructure projects to date, and the public interest is well-protected by those existing laws.
Vancouver residents recently had the chance to hear from the companies behind the proposed Millennium Export Terminal in Longview. The company officials’ story is a compelling one. More and more people in Washington are realizing the real stakes in the debate over this terminal, which would handle commodity exports and imports, for products such as coal, timber, and alumina.
If current rules are followed, the proposed expansions of three existing Northwest ports to handle new commodity shipments would be granted. The expansion of the ports would provide widespread benefits for other export industries and would strengthen Washington’s position as a global trade leader going forward.
If current rules are changed, however, complicated and far-reaching regulatory reviews could halt the facilities. This will cost the region significant jobs and tax revenues in the short term, and forever change the economics of investing and securing trade opportunities in the Northwest.
Because more than 90 percent of Washington exporters are small or medium-sized industries, small businesses have a vested interest in this debate about expanding our state’s trade and export capacity. An inconsistent regulatory process will stifle these businesses and undermine their ability to grow and create jobs.
Don’t add hurdles
Likewise, any changes to existing rules will inevitably apply to all future projects in our state. We can’t afford and don’t need to place new regulatory hurdles in the way of economic growth.
If we allow this to happen with port projects, it will set a pattern for future projects that will choke off development and weaken our long-term trade competitiveness. Sensible and consistent regulations are keys to maintaining our state’s export advantage.
Investing billions of private-development dollars in new and expanded facilities that will handle not only coal, but also grain, timber and manufactured goods, will benefit our state’s smaller exporters. The decision before us now, which has deep significance and long-lasting consequences, is whether or not we use these proposed expansions as an opportunity to strengthen the Northwest economy and trade infrastructure.
Let’s not forget that international trade is responsible for as many as one in four jobs in the Pacific Northwest, and as many as 40 percent of all jobs in Washington state. What’s needed right this moment is for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to exhibit some political leadership on an issue of supreme benefit to the economic health of their states, and at no loss to either states’ well-deserved reputation for the importance of environmental considerations.
Unfortunately, we’re not breathing easy about such courage coming soon.