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With flip-flop, Gov. Inslee chooses climate optics over balance

Governor’s about-face on Tacoma, Kalama projects is a setback for labor-environmental efforts



(May 20, 2019) — On a beautiful, sunny afternoon earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a suite of climate change bills that benefit workers and the environment. Union leaders were proud to stand with environmental leaders as the governor signed the groundbreaking 100-percent clean electricity bill and others into law.

Not only will these historic pieces of legislation have positive impacts for Washington’s environment and our communities, they also passed with support from a broad-based coalition of labor and environmental organizations and leaders.

That is why it was so disappointing that the very next day, the governor announced he was withdrawing his support for the Tacoma liquefied natural gas (LNG) and Kalama methanol projects.

These two industrial projects are intended to reduce global greenhouse gases by replacing two far more dangerous and polluting sources of marine fuel and methanol.

Announcing his opposition, Inslee said, “I cannot in good conscience support continued construction of a liquefied natural gas plant in Tacoma or a methanol production facility in Kalama. In the early days of both projects, I said they could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as we transition to cleaner energy sources, but I am no longer convinced that locking in these multidecadal infrastructure projects are sufficient to accomplishing what’s necessary.”

The problem is that there are no alternative renewable options that reduce or eliminate greenhouse emissions except for the projects he is now opposing.

Unfortunately, by ignoring science in favor of politics and optics, the governor makes it more difficult to hold together the very coalition that helped achieve his goals.

When Initiative 1631 failed last November, it was an inflection point for the labor-environmental coalition. I-1631 intended to reduce carbon emissions while providing a “just transition” to support communities and workers currently dependent on fossil fuel production for their livelihoods.

Without commenting on the merits of I-1631, the post-election question was: Could the labor-environmental coalition survive?

The answer is yes, as we showed in the 2019 legislative session. With the passage of the 100-percent clean electricity bill and other legislation backed by the coalition, we created a path to protect both jobs and the environment.

But now, some want to stall that progress and undermine the coalition’s success by lumping together all fossil fuel projects as bad. That’s simply not true.

The Tacoma LNG project will replace the diesel-like bunker fuel currently used by ships delivering cargo to and from our ports here in Tacoma and around the Puget Sound. The use of LNG over bunker fuel will reduce greenhouse emissions by more than 30 percent and particulate matter by more than 90 percent.

The benefits of switching to LNG also extend to eliminating the potential for a catastrophic fuel spill. If LNG were to spill on the water, the product simply evaporates with no environmental damage. By switching to LNG, health outcomes will improve for workers at the ports and for fence-line communities.

In Kalama, the NW Innovations Works’ (NWIW) manufacturing facility will use natural gas to produce methanol instead of using coal, as is the current practice in China.

By displacing coal-to-methanol manufacturing in China, NWIW’s facility would result in a net reduction of global greenhouse emissions of between 9.6 million to 12.6 million tons annually.

NWIW has committed to voluntarily mitigate 100 percent of all greenhouse emissions occurring within Washington related to this project – including those outside NWIW’s control and operations.

The LNG and methanol projects and their impact on greenhouse gas reductions are facts. They are the type of initiatives that appropriately balance economic and environmental needs.

Let’s believe the science, not politics.

Larry Brown is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The WSLC is the state’s largest union organization, representing the interests of some 600 locals and councils with approximately 550,000 rank-and-file members working in Washington state. This guest opinion column was published Sunday, May 19 in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.

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