Expanded review of coal terminal risks putting emotion before reason

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 16, 2013 

Booker T. Washington once said that nothing ever comes to one that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.

I think that sentiment is very appropriate when we look at Bellingham, at Whatcom County and at the opportunity before us with the Gateway Pacific Terminal.

I am a person who does hard work. Always have, always will. And those of us who work hard for our livings feel the Gateway project could give us one pathway out of what has become a very tough situation in Whatcom County for many of our neighbors, and for many of our friends.

That's why I was so deeply troubled recently when the State Department of Ecology announced it would set new precedent for how it does environmental reviews, and it hinged this new precedent on our local project.

The state announced it would look at everything from train traffic to greenhouse gasses in Asia before it clears the terminal.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it would review each terminal proposal individually. We were encouraged, hopeful even, after the Corps announcement. But then the state said two weeks ago that it would take a different route. The state announced it would look at rail transportation around the region, look at a general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond our waters and look at greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.

These decisions are unprecedented. Ecology's scoping decision for Cherry Point all but certainly opens the door for environmental review of future shipping and manufacturing facilities to require assessment of similar impacts.

Going forward, this could include requiring analysis of transporting aircraft components to any proposed new Boeing assembly plant and the greenhouse gas emissions of the aircraft to be manufactured there, of transporting all the goods that may be sold in any new major retail outlet and the greenhouse gas emissions of what will be sold there and of transporting apples, cherries, wheat and wine from Eastern Washington to any proposed export facility or retail store together with greenhouse gas emissions associated with processing these agricultural products at their destination.

While Ecology may be responding in good faith to the passionate protests of some citizens in this particular case, it risks putting emotion before reason in doing so. It is essential to the future our state economy, including jobs for Washingtonians, that Ecology carefully consider the far-reaching potential consequences of its decision in this case on development of future facilities.

Now, the project managers are moving forward, it won't be easy but they will find a way to work with Ecology's decision and hold them to their two-year estimate for this process, because they know this project is a good fit for this county.

The key point is that project managers want to work to a solution. They want to work with the state, even though this scope is unprecedented and is definitely new terrain for our region. The theme that keeps creeping up is hard work. We know we have work ahead of us. We know we have much to do to continue to work with this county and its people to show them this project can be done in a way that provides jobs and is also good for our environment. But we believe that work is very worth it.

Our county has a huge poverty issue and this project would create thousands of jobs in our county. It would also bring us millions of dollars in tax revenues. Many of those jobs are in the construction trades, which have been hit hard the last several years. I am involved because I believe this project could help us jumpstart our local economy. If I can find a way to use my voice and roll up my sleeves to make this project happen, I believe it is worth it.

Another old phrase is "Nothing worth having comes easy." I believe this project is most certainly worth having. I also think it isn't going to come easy, but I am committed to seeing it through.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Lowry is president of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council. For information about the union, go online to nwwclc.org.

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