Our Voice: Ecology's expanded SEPA will hurt only Washington

The State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) plays an important role in identifying potential environmental problems and protecting Washington's lands, waterways and air.

The nature of any regulatory effort occasionally will cause friction among other interests.

It's to be expected.

Recently, however, the Department of Ecology has broadly overstepped its bounds in administering environmental regulations. The agency has gone from creating the expected friction to putting the brakes on controversial projects before an assessment is even completed.

In this case, political pressure against Washington ports participating in coal exports has Ecology officials wielding SEPA as a weapon rather than a tool.

It makes sense for the scope of SEPA requirements to include the environmental impact of long trains coming through the Tri-Cities -- and other parts of Washington -- with an Asian-bound shipment of coal.

It is completely unreasonable, however, for SEPA to demand a study of the environmental impact of that same coal being burned more than 4,000 miles away.

China is way out of Washington's jurisdiction.

And worse, the department has adopted vague timelines.

The evaluation is estimated to take "years." That's a pretty open-ended timeframe.

The purpose of such an evaluation can only be to kill the project. It's a backhanded way of shutting down the permitting process before it even gets started.

Keep Washington Competitive, a diverse group of labor, business and agriculture interests is working to restore some sanity to the SEPA process.

Its requests, as reported on www.awb.org, are simple and reasonable:

w Fair and timely review under SEPA for all projects, lasting no longer than 18 months

w An individualized evaluation of proposals that looks at the geographic areas and communities directly affected by a project or policy, rather than speculative or indirect effects outside of Washington state.

These are reasonable constraints. They would allow the Department of Ecology to do due diligence and allow businesses to stay viable.

The Department of Ecology's new approach is of interest to all of Washington, especially the Mid-Columbia. It sets a precedent that has the potential to extend far beyond coal. Anything that is imported or exported through Washington could now require a review of the end use anywhere in the world.

Want to build a new hay cube facility? What's the contribution to global warming from methane emitted by cows feeding on the cubes? Want to sell some new airliners? What's the environmental damage from burning jet fuel during the life of the plane?

Those are just a couple of examples. You don't have to own Boeing stock or an alfalfa farm to be alarmed by this expansion of SEPA's scope.

Washington's first-of-its-kind global SEPA review process won't protect the environment but force trading partners to get their coal, planes and hay from other suppliers.

It also sets the state up for lawsuits from other states that claim we are violating interstate commerce laws and U.S. trade policy.

SEPA provides a valuable protection to Washington's natural resources. The newly expanded SEPA is extreme, unnecessary and counterproductive to good business practices in our state.

It needs to be reigned in.