January 16, 2014

SEPA changes: 'The ramifications would be very, very substantial'

By: Brian Mittge   Comments: 10
Dick Settle, a law professor and attorney with Foster Pepper (center) and John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington State Farm Bureau (left) testify before the Senate Trade & Economic Development Committee Thursday morning. 
Dick Settle, a longtime law professor and attorney with Foster Pepper PLLC, held up a thick book he wrote in 1987 about the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). The book keeps getting heavier with each annual revision, he said during a Thursday work session of the Senate Trade & Economic Development Committee, and he said a major event last summer will lead to its greatest expansion yet.

Rather than reviewing the statewide impacts of the Gateway bulk export facility in Whatcom County, as is usual in SEPA, the Department of Ecology announced in July it would take the unprecedented step of looking at the global impacts of the products that go through that facility -- from production in another state to transport and the final use at the end destination.

"If we are to be consistent in the application of SEPA, the ramifications will be very, very substantial and we will be doing a lot more environmental impact statements than we are doing now," said Settle.

Settle noted that an environmental impact statement or EIS takes years, sometimes a decade or more. The cost of that review in money and delayed action is real and will have an impact on our state, he said.

"Is that a regulatory time period that is acceptable as a matter of policy?" he said. "Looking before leaping is great, information is great, who could be against it? But it's not free. It takes time, and time can be very costly in terms of the economic development of our state."

Dick Settle, law professor and attorney with Foster Pepper

Settle was one of three AWB members who spoke during the Senate committee's work session on the economic impacts of environmental regulations.

Gerry O’Keefe, assistant director for environmental affairs for the Washington Public Ports Association, said Washington's exporters are concerned about where the line will be drawn. What types of projects will now come under the new review that considers not just the impact of the export development, but the impact of the products being imported or exported? Today coal is under the microscope, he said. Tomorrow will it be corn grown in the Midwest and converted into ethanol elsewhere?

"The ramifications of those kinds of messages with our trading partners I don't think are well understood by the Department of Ecology, but should be very well considered in the governor's office before decisions like this are made," said O'Keefe. 

Gerry O’Keefe, Washington Public Ports Association

John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington State Farm Bureau, said his nearly 42,000 members are stewards of the land who must compete globally but are struggling under regulations that are unique to Washington, from fish consumption standards to "bully science" under the Endangered Species Act. 

"Regulatory schemes should be all about certainty, predictability and fairness," Stuhlmiller said. "In recent years we have struggled with that. My industry faces would I would submit to you is the greatest single threat ever in the existence of our state right now, and it comes from regulatory pressures that are right on the edge." 

John Stuhlmiller, CEO, Washington State Farm Bureau


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