Big players in business and labor finally can agree on something: The Department of Ecology has them spooked. The agency’s plan to write a wildly expansive environmental impact statement for a coal port near Bellingham is enough to make anyone scared, they say, and they are announcing formation of a coalition to press their point.
The issue isn’t coal, they say, but rather that the same tactic could be used to block any industrial project. “This is a competitive issue,” said Gary Chandler, vice president of governmental affairs for the Association of Washington Business. “The state’s economy and jobs depend on trade, and that is worth fighting for.”
Their newly formed ‘Keep Washington Competitive’ coalition signals a new approach to the state’s biggest environmental debate. Unlike the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports, the lead organization that has been trying to build support for Northwest coal exports, the new coalition does not include the rail and Midwestern coal companies with a direct stake in the outcome. The new group has a different message. Forget about coal, it says – it’s the process that ought to make people nervous. For the first time, state regulators are asserting the right to decide what sort of business can be done in Washington. No matter how benign the port itself might be, no matter what might be done to allay local concerns, it is going to have trouble passing muster under the criteria state regulators have adopted. And you have to wonder if Ecology is going to stop with coal.
In its environmental review, Ecology won’t be stopping at the state line – it plans to “evaluate” everything from train shipping from Wyoming and Montana to the use of ocean-going vessels, and most importantly, the impact of coal-burning on the other side of the world. Yet regulators have no plans to consider the fact that China can get coal elsewhere and burn just as much as they might get from Washington terminals. That means that the EIS is almost certain to conclude the coal-port proposal poses a global environmental hazard. Given the green inclinations of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who has made climate change a top issue, and who has written the Obama administration urging a shutdown of coal exports, the review is likely to provide political cover for a decision to reject a permit. A similar “scoping” decision is expected shortly from the state on a second coal-port proposal at the Port of Longview.
“What you’ll see from this coalition is a common message,” said Dave Myers, executive secretary of the Washington Building and Construction Trades Council. “We are asking for a fair and timely review of these projects, and one that reviews things that are within our control, so that we can move forward.”
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