‘Environmental activists’ deserve same scrutiny the rest of us get


(April 9, 2013) — Today it seems more difficult than ever to discern fact from opinion. Some say the stilted mix of TV ratings, profit-minded corporate journalism and credibility-challenged blogs has inflamed partisanship, dashed fair-minded discussion and hopelessly polarized the country.

Others say that’s nothing new. After all, it was Mark Twain who famously said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can lace up its shoes.”

In Olympia in recent weeks, state legislators scrambled to find credible information on Senate Bill 5805 from industry, labor, environmentalists and their assorted lobbyists and surrogates. The bill sought to revise existing legal language so that projects of statewide significance could be co-led by state regulatory agencies such as the Department of Ecology.

SB 5805’s fate serves as a reminder that perhaps it’s time for those who consider themselves environmentalists to get the same jaundiced eye that advocates for industry and labor routinely receive.

The bill was killed amid fears that an “expedited” review for such projects would jeopardize the environment, despite explicit language in SB 5805 that no local, state or federal environmental regulation or regulatory requirement would be exempted in the comprehensive review.

Bill proponents included several unions, the Washington State Labor Council and the Association of Washington Business. Such groups supported changing the current proviso that gives local government officials sole say-so in authorizing statewide designations. That proviso, notes proponents, is precisely why the law has yet to grant a single “project of statewide significance” since being enacted 16 years ago.

“It doesn’t make sense to give a local politician absolute veto power in deciding which projects has statewide benefits,” said Daren Konopaski, international vice president for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302. “The law was created to give the people of the state, through their regulatory review agencies, a voice in projects that benefit us all.”

Opposition to SB 5805 included Jefferson County locals trying to thwart the “pit-to-pier” sand and gravel project. Now referred to as Thorndyke Resource, the project proposes to barge and ship sand and gravel from an upland deposit in northern Hood Canal to Puget Sound, Washington and West Coast urban markets. As integral components for concrete and asphalt, sand and gravel is fundamental to constructing roads, highways, bridges, buildings and public infrastructure.

Project officials tout several environmental, safety and economic benefits. Transporting via barges and ships removes thousands of trucks off crowded roads and highways while creating 2,000 direct and indirect family-wage jobs in mining and maritime through onshore, construction and ship-building trades, including engineers, shipwrights, electricians, pipe-fitters and welders. The project has also publicly pledged 500,000 tons of sand and gravel for broad-scale restoration projects repairing miles of denigrated Puget Sound beaches and nearshore habitats.

The project has been mired in Jefferson County review processes since 2003, despite winning numerous (four) lawsuits levied by the Hood Canal Coalition (HCC), a local opposition group headed by John Fabian. Since retiring from Texas to a Hood Canal waterfront view in Port Ludlow in 1998, Fabian has become a regular at county commissioner meetings and active in local Democratic Party politics.

Fabian cites numerous groups opposing the project, opposition based primarily, if not exclusively, on information provided by Fabian. Over the years, those project portrayals have included numerous colorful attacks on the industry and project supporters:

  • In a letter to the editor, Fabian wrote, “…Mining is an ugly thing, a crime against nature and a rape of the environment. … It is not only ugly while it is happening, it is ugly when it is finished.” [Note: the former Steilacoom regional pit is now Chambers Bay Golf Course and host to the 2015 U.S. Open.]
  • Fabian continues to equate the project’s proposed barges and ships hauling sand and gravel to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker and “U.S.S. Nimitz and NATO-class aircraft carriers.”
  • He has characterized the project as “strip mining 21,000 acres.” [Note: the project application calls for surface mining and prompt reclamation of sequential 40-acre segments within 690 acres on lands designated for mineral resources].

In Olympia this month, Fabian again showed up in emails, letters and missives, supplying his hyperbole to senators and environmentalists, who subsequently peppered politicians over the past several weeks with emailed vitriol on the pier project and SB 5805. Despite bipartisan sponsorship, and the willingness by prime sponsor Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) to amend the bill to address specific concerns, SB 5805 was killed without a vote.

“We have to be smarter than listening to those who think it’s a blind choice between job creation and environmental protection,” Konopaski said. “We can do both. I mean, really, 10 years to review something as routine and benign as barging sand and gravel? We all deserve better. Families not only lose jobs, but in the competitive global economy, our country gets its butt kicked.”

Smarter solutions come from environmental scientists as well. When a caller to KUOW 94.9 inquired about the dangers of the pier project on Hood Canal, Scott Redman, the technical/science program manager for the then-Puget Sound Action Team, answered:

“If we really carefully take a look at that, we can design development, whether it’s shoreline landowners, whether it’s a growing city along the shores of Puget Sound or a gravel mine. I think we can do those things in a smart way.”

Josh Swanson is Labor Research and Communications Director for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302. You can contact him at jswanson@iuoe302.org.

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