We don't make anything in America anymore! The middle class is shrinking! We need more environmental regulation! We won't live as well as our parents did!
Hardly a day passes when there isn't a news item describing the need for more and better jobs and a better environment, but the context too often seems to pit one against the other as if in a battle between good and evil. This is a false proposition, because a good, sustainable quality of life requires both.
A few years ago, local business and labor leaders jointly formed the Northwest Jobs Alliance in order to promote reasoned, fact-based discussion of economic and job development prospects in Whatcom County. Our mission is to: "Promote the growth of family-wage jobs in the context of sound environmental practice." We seek balanced community solutions.
Also in the past few years, there have been very strident and aggressive advocates of de-industrializing our economy, even threatening the high-wage jobs at the existing Cherry Point industries (which include two oil refineries and an aluminum smelter), to say nothing of the prospect of new industrial job growth.
Here is an example of what some of these community activists are arguing:
"...it is time to assess our Whatcom County industrial 'good neighbors and corporate citizens' with a more critical eye..."
"What should be occurring is a joint effort by the federal, state, and local governments, in consultation with the tribes, to consider whether any industrial activity at Cherry Point is appropriate or compatible with protecting that area."
Activist lawyer Terry Wechsler, April 21 and 6, 2014 on NWCitizen.com
The July 16 public hearing by the Army Corps of Engineers on the BP pier expansion, something that was permitted and built a decade ago, is another case in point. This was a hearing on what the scope of a retroactive environmental review should be. Some people argued that the vessel handling capacity of the pier should be limited to what it was before the pier was expanded, which would destroy millions of dollars of investment and industrial capacity, along with the associated jobs. It is no wonder that Washington is often viewed as a risky place to invest in job growth.
Let's be clear: this is opposition to something that is already here. Many of us know or have been told what Whatcom County was like before all of those family-wage jobs came into existence at Cherry Point. We are not among those who would like to see our economy devolve into what it was before then.
The livelihoods of thousands of families are at stake, as well as those of future generations to come. Without the Cherry Point industrial job base, which was the result of decades of careful thought and planning, our community's economy and family income levels would be significantly weakened. And our schools and local cities would suffer from a decimated tax base and diminished services, along with an increased shift of the tax burden to homeowners. (Industry now carries much of the tax load.)
It couldn't help but be noticed that most of the attendees at the BP hearing were older - people who likely have had their opportunities to earn a good living during America's industrial heyday and can now slide comfortably into a retirement with some combination of an investment portfolio, pension benefits and Social Security.
Today's young people are justifiably pessimistic about being able to enjoy the standard of living of their parents or grandparents. Unless you subscribe to the quip by Groucho Marx ("What have future generations ever done for us?"), then we owe today's children and grandchildren the opportunity that we had to climb into and sometimes even beyond the middle class.
Whatcom County is a community of haves and have-nots. We have lost much of our private industrial job base over the last 20 years and are now more reliant upon government and service-sector employment. Our wage rates are below the state average, poverty rates exceed the state average, and half of the county's school children eat government-subsidized meals. Yet we have costs of living close to Seattle's.
The growing wage gap is troublesome and one of the best ways to bridge it is with high-wage employment. That's exactly what the industries at Cherry Point provide.
We reject the thinking that we can't have both economic prosperity and environmental quality. We must have both.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Huntley owns Mills Electric and Brad Owens of the NW Washington Building and Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO, are co-chairs of the Northwest Jobs Alliance. Contact them at email@example.com.