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Arbitrary regulatory process can cost jobs


(Sept. 19, 2016) — Most Washingtonians are unfamiliar with the state’s regulatory-review process. It is technical, it is cumbersome and it is a side of government few ever see up close.

But we are all familiar with jobs. And exports. And Washington state products — Boeing airplanes, wheat and apples to name a few — that have instant global recognition.

What does one have to do with the other?

It has to do with the way our state examines proposals for new projects. In particular, big projects with the potential to create sorely needed family-wage jobs in communities outside the Puget Sound region. One example is the proposed export terminal planned for a former industrial site in Longview.

port-of-longview-no-exitWashington state law requires a thorough environmental review to determine the potential impacts of a proposed project. We don’t argue with the need for a thorough environmental review itself: Washington state labor has worked hand-in-hand with government and industry over the years to build a first-rate manufacturing sector that also has set a global standard for environmental care.

We’re proud to be on the leading edge of environmentalism, and the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals will be another example of our commitment to Washington’s environmental quality of life.

But where the people of Washington should be concerned is with the absurd length of time it took to review the proposal along with the unpredictable — perhaps unreachable — scope it seeks to impose.

Employers looking to build new facilities here need to know how long the permitting process will take. In the case of Millennium, it’s already taken more than four years just to get a draft environmental report. That’s a statistic likely to scare off most investors — and the family-wage jobs that go with them.

That has already happened in Tacoma, where an investor pulled out of a methanol plant project, citing an uncertain review process. Washington needs a standard timeframe for its review of proposed projects.

Perhaps more crucial is the scope of the review. In the case of Millennium, the Washington State Department of Ecology is asking the company to mitigate for the impact of 50 percent of greenhouse gasses related to the coal shipped through the terminal from its initial source, through its entire rail route, to its ultimate use wherever it may go. Worse, it asks Millennium to do this based on international treaties and climate plans that do not formally exist. This is an absurd, arbitrary and highly speculative request.


The unprecedented demand to require Millennium to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions that occur in other states and on the other side of the globe will create a harrowing process that should terrify any Washington manufacturer or shipper looking to expand its facility, and will surely scare off potential out-of-state investors.

One wonders what the impact might be on the aerospace industry should Boeing choose to build another assembly plant here. Will they be asked to mitigate for the lifetime impact of the airplanes they build? Can they even get an answer to that question before they pour hundreds of millions of dollars into an open-ended and possibly unachievable review process?

Our labor brothers and sisters fully support all efforts to protect Washington’s pristine environment. Our state has some of the most stringent environmental policies in the world. But our never-ending and arbitrary regulatory process will only obscure opportunities for new manufacturing in our state, and the good-paying jobs that go with it.


brown-larryLarry Brown is the Legislative and Political Director for the Machinists Union District 751.

Lee Newgent is Executive Director of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO.

The column originally appeared in the P.S. Business Journal and is posted here with the authors’ permission.

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