Numerous Washington state labor leaders are urging Governor Jay Inslee to endorse two economic development projects bogged down in the state’s permitting process, highlighting the regional energy security, expanded trade capacity and opportunities for apprenticeship training the projects would provide.
Union heads and members of Keep Washington Competitive (KWC), an alliance of business, labor, agriculture and trade organizations, delivered a letter on May 4 asking Inslee to support both the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminals (MBT) coal export terminal in Longview, and the Vancouver Energy oil terminal project at the port of Vancouver, Washington.
“Both Millennium and Vancouver Energy would create local jobs, bolstering local economies struggling to recover from recent recessions,” wrote the letter’s signers. “They would also provide prime training grounds for the next generation of apprentices and other skilled workers who need large infrastructure experience to advance in the trades.”
Leadership from Millennium Bulk Terminals indicated similar hopes, including their enthusiasm to bring the labor unions on board to make the construction and operation of the project possible.
“Skilled tradesmen and women better than anyone understand the positive, transformational influence a major development such as ours can have on a community,” said MBT’s, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs Wendy Hutchinson in a written statement. “We are pleased to have them in our corner and are eagerly awaiting the day they can begin work on this project.”
The letter urges Inslee to support the projects which are “vital to our state’s workforce training needs” and would “provide critically needed family-wage, union jobs and tax revenue for state and local governments.” Leaders contend Inslee’s support of these projects would be a material way to demonstrate his stated support for creating family-wage jobs.
Yet Inslee’s lack of enthusiasm toward these projects was noted during an interview with Longview City Councilmember Mike Wallin. “The governor talks about how jobs, and union jobs and family-wage jobs are important and we have an opportunity here to provide that, to be reasonable about it, build it right, manage things correctly, and we don’t see any leadership from the government in actually trying to work out these issues.”
Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building Trades Council, agrees: “He has made a lot of promises about jobs and as a building trades leader we’ve supported him because of his stance on labor and jobs and middle class issues. We want to see that end result.”
Lengthy Permitting Process : “The word on business is you can’t get a project permitted in Washington”
The unpredictability of the permitting process also needs to be addressed, said Bridges. It becomes “troublesome” for businesses to relocate to Washington or take on projects because they lack an assurance of a timeline with a fixed endpoint.
“The word on business is you can’t get a project permitted in Washington,” he told Lens. “Even if you are against the project, don’t you think business and the community deserves a timely process? Doesn’t that make us look like a place that wants to do business from the outside looking in?”
To address the issue, State Rep. Brian Blake (D-19) this session introduced HB 1086 which passed both chambers and was delivered to Inslee’s desk on April 20. The measure would encourage timely completion of state environmental impact statements (EIS) within two years. Inslee has not yet acted on the bill.
The letter’s signers also raised concerns stemming from the Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County’s recommendation for MBT to mitigate 100 percent of coal emissions inside and outside of Washington state, saying it “will put a chill on future job-creating investments in the most trade-dependent state in the nation.”
On the federal side, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is still developing its own final EIS on the project as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), scheduled for release this summer. Unlike the state EIS, the federal EIS’ scope does not include an impact analysis for gas emissions outside of the state.
Inslee’s Support Would ‘Put Pressure’ On Regulators For A Timely Project Approval Process
Last fall, Inslee indicated support of MBT once it finishes its necessary regulatory process, including a public comment period and a comprehensive environmental review.
“We’re going to follow that law, wherever it leads,” Inslee, told the Daily News, indicating he would have liked to have seen a decision made on the project much earlier and also noting its “extensive” permitting process.
Protecting the state’s environment is more important than a quick approval, however, Inslee added, along with considering any lasting negative impacts stemming from the project’s operation.
Although Inslee’s influence is limited in the MBT proposal, he will make the decision to approve or deny the Vancouver Energy project once the Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) makes its final recommendation.
“The governor has influence and it would be nice to have support like say even if ‘s not direct in putting his name on a signature line but…(to) put pressure on the regulatory folks, and that seems to be really what our issue is – nobody seems to be doing that,” Bridges said. “It’s almost like some folks are okay with it, the process taking that long.”
Lens contacted Inslee’s office for comment but did not receive a response by publication time.