Regulatory overreach threatens Washington’s export economy

February 3, 2014,
Every business in the state that’s connected to trade — and that’s about 40 percent of them — should be concerned about what’s going on with the State Environmental Policy Act, or SEPA.

That was the message delivered Monday by representatives of Keep Washington Competitive, a new coalition of business, agriculture, trade unions and transportation organizations. The group is alarmed over the state Department of Ecology’s decision to include global and regional environmental impacts in its SEPA review of a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham.

Historically, SEPA has been used only to address local environmental impacts. The decision carries consequences well beyond the proposed coal terminal, coalition members said during a press conference at AWB’s office in Olympia. It means that politics is now part of the environmental review process and that, for the first time, state officials will have the power to decide which commodities can and cannot be exported from the state.

“Coal is the hot button issue now, but it will pass,” said Tom Davis, director of government relations for the Washington Farm Bureau. “It will be something else in the future.” For example, state officials could take into account the environmental impact of airplanes exported from Washington, or how international buyers plan to use Northwest timber, the coalition members said.

The regulation could even affect imports if, for example, officials wanted to review the environmental impact of gasoline-powered cars coming into the Port of Grays Harbor. This kind of commodity-specific review is unprecedented and dangerous to the economy, particularly because of the out-sized role that exports play in Washington state.

“The pursuit of such an aggressive agenda will cost us jobs,” said David Myers, executive secretary of the Washington State Building Trades Council.

Mike Elliott, representing the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said that “science and science alone” should be the foundation of the SEPA law and SEPA review process. “For 150 years, we’ve hauled every type of commodity on Earth,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want regulators deciding which products railroads can carry. “It has to be across-the-board fair,” he said. “We just feel there’s been a departure from that.”

The coalition is calling for:

  • Fair and timely review under SEPA for all projects, lasting no longer than 18 months
  • An individualized evaluation of proposals that looks at the geographic areas and communities directly impacted by a project or policy, rather than speculative or indirect effects outside of Washington state

To view the full release from the Association of Washington Business, click here.