There are 300,000 people out of work in Washington - they are our family, friends and neighbors. For many, their extended unemployment benefits have run out and they are desperate to find a job. In Whatcom County, 40 percent of workers in the construction trades are unemployed.
If there were a responsible way to create thousands of good-paying jobs and help some of these people provide for their families, would we?
That is the question we should be asking regarding the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal.
Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation - 40 percent of our jobs in our state are related to trade. President Obama has called on states to expand trade as a way to stimulate the economy.
SSA Marine is trying to answer that call. With Washington roots dating back 60 years, the company is proposing to spend $660 million to build a shipping terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. The terminal would provide thousands of good jobs and millions each year in tax revenues. As with all such projects, the terminal would be subject to Washington's tough environmental laws.
One of the products Gateway would handle is grain. The U.S. Grains Council recently warned that the lack of export facilities for grain is jeopardizing America's competitiveness in the global marketplace. The new Gateway terminal would certainly fill that need.
Yet, activists oppose the terminal because it would also export low-sulfur coal from the Power River Basin. Blocking the Gateway Pacific Terminal will cost 4,000 high-paying union construction jobs and 1,200 family-wage permanent jobs at a time when they are desperately needed. What's more concerning is in the long term, the unrelenting campaign to stop the terminal will serve as a warning to any business considering moving to Washington. The message is clear: "Stay out."
Anyone wanting to build in Washington already faces vastly complicated state, local and federal rules and regulations. This kind of high-profile, negative campaign could convince them take their business (and the jobs they'll create) elsewhere.
We need to ask ourselves. Do we care that this is happening? Do we care that 300,000 people in Washington are out of work? Ironically, stopping Gateway won't stop coal exports or coal trains; they will simply travel further north to shipping terminals in Vancouver, B.C. Ultimately, opponents will have succeeded only in sending our tax revenue - and our jobs - to Canada.
Don C. Brunell of Vancouver, Wash., is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington State's Chamber of Commerce, which has 270 members in Whatcom County.