From coronavirus to carbon, virtual Spring Meeting covers what's on the mind of business
The annual AWB Spring Meeting usually brings hundreds of people to Spokane. This year's virtual event was an even bigger draw. More than 440 people listened as 40-plus speakers discussed a wide range of topics, from the environment to the manufacturing response to COVID-19. Key panel topics covered included:
- CARBON POLICY: The day began with a four-corners discussion on carbon issues from top lawmakers in both caucuses and chambers. Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said that rebuilding the economy must be done with sustainability at the center, while Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said energy & carbon policy shouldn't artificially increase the price of food, energy and other staples. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, mentioned that Washington's only steel mill -- Nucor Steel Seattle -- is in his district, and said he believes there can be policy to reduce carbon emissions without pushing vital industries outside of the state or nation. Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, said that any carbon policy should remember that rural people bear the heaviest burden of higher food, energy and transportation fuel costs.
- ECONOMIC IMPACTS: The greenhouse gas discussion moved to an expert discussion on the economic impact of carbon strategies. Robert Stavins, the A.J. Meyer professor of energy and economic development at the Harvard Kennedy School, noted that the climate impacts of carbon emissions are global, but the costs of reducing emissions are local, creating a classic "free rider" problem. Dallas Burtraw, the Darius Gaskins senior fellow at Resources for the Future, said the recovery from COVID-19 means there will be new investment in infrastructure and reopening of businesses. That creates opportunity for efficient approaches to environmental policy, he said.
- MANUFACTURING PPE: The remarkable response of manufacturers to the coronavirus was highlighted in the "Pivoting to PPE" panel. Novolex Vice President Phil Rozenski and GM Nameplate Co-Chairman and President Greg Root joined Emily Wittman of the Aerospace Futures Alliance for the discussion. The Novolex facility in Yakima previously made food packaging, but within three days it pivoted to medical. Novolex in Yakima now can make 10 million medical isolation gowns per month. "There’s a huge demand for these that didn’t exist before," Rozenski said. Root gave viewers a live tour of his Seattle facility, where they pivoted from making electronic casing products to making face shields and other PPE. That move allowed it to keep employing most of its workers. From idea to design to die-cutting, Root said, "the creativity has been incredible."
- ENERGY STORAGE INNOVATIONS: How can clean energy be stored so that solar and wind energy can be used when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing? The Energy Storage Innovations panel had insights. Jud Virden of PNNL noted Washington could play a key role in domestic lithium-ion battery production because of our vast network of affordable hydroelectric generation: "It’s a differentiator for us with companies looking to manufacture batteries in the U.S," Virden said. Ryan Kenny of Clean Energy said his company's Redeem renewable natural gas, a biomethane fuel made for commercial vehicles from organic waste, is actually carbon negative. "This is the future," Kenny said. Sahar Shirazi of the global professional services firm WSP discussed how automated and connected vehicles create opportunities for equity, lower greenhouse gas emissions, rural transit, convenience and congestion relief. "Once you get people on these vehicles and get them riding around, they become much more comfortable with them," she said.
- CARBON REDUCTION PRACTICES FOR MANUFACTURERS: Catherine Reheis-Boyd of the Western States Petroleum Association said this is the most exciting time in her 38-year career as she sees innovation flower in energy production. She said that as lawmakers consider legislation, they should remember that "access to energy matters. It’s got to be affordable, reliable and plentiful." She said any climate policy must consider energy, environment, economy and equality. Patrick Jablonski of Nucor Steel Seattle noted that his mill is one of the greenest in the world. Moving 1 ton of steel production from Seattle to China would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 2 tons, he said, so "it’s absolutely critical for us to get this right... to prevent that kind of unintended consequence of a state policy." Alan Prouty of the Simplot Co. noted that food processing employs 30,000 people in the Northwest, and that natural gas is key to their industry -- nearly 75% of the energy they use to process food comes from natural gas.
- REBOUND AND RECOVERY: The volunteer leaders who created AWB's new Rebound and Recovery site gave a tour of this free new employer resource. First, Department of Commerce Director Lisa Brown talked about the importance of this resource: "I’m really excited about what the task force has done and how quickly it has responded. Work with the Rebound and Recovery Task Force has been really key for us," Brown said. Michelle Hege of DH, co-chair of the task force, said it was created barely a month ago with a simple goal: to safely reopen as many businesses in Washington as quickly as possible. Her co-chair, Tim Schauer of MacKay Sposito, said "[this] feels like work with real purpose." Citing a "dream team" of volunteers across the state, he said “it’s pretty impressive to me that a group of volunteers could do this in just over a month." Brian Forth of SiteCrafting, which made the Rebound and Recovery website, said the new website has a better than 35% conversion rate: "There’s a significant need for PPE in this state as well as the other resources we’ve created."
- TRANSPORTATION ROUNDTABLE: Key transportation leaders in the Legislature gave an update of what lies ahead for funding the state's key infrastructure needs. Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, noted that COVID-related economic impacts will mean major losses in funding for transportation. When the Legislature returns, whether in 2021 or special session this summer, "getting attention for transportation will be tough. There will be billion-dollar shortfalls in the operating budget," King said. Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said the sooner any necessary cuts are made, the less deep the cuts will need to be and with lesser impacts. Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said "the new normal" of telecommuting could have long-term impacts on traffic patterns. Whatever happens, he said it's vital to invest. "You can’t have economic recovery without having a robust, strong transportation network," Barkis said.
- ORGANIZED LABOR: AWB Government Affairs Director Peter Godlewski spoke with several trade union leaders about their perspective on job impacts and possible opportunities in proposed legislation. Gordon Baxter of the Puget Sound Maritime Trades Council said that carbon pricing legislation could have a big impact on the number of ships that call at Puget Sound Ports: "When costs go up, opportunities go away," he said -- adding that pennies on the truckload make a difference in where shippers decide to offload. He said that if a carbon cost is imposed, the money raised should be invested in transportation. Leanne Guier of UA Local 32 Plumbers & Pipefitters said labor and business are aligned on key issues like transportation and workforce training: "Understanding where we have common ground and moving forward has been so key on past legislation," she said.
- CHANGING ENERGY LANDSCAPE: Three of Washington’s utility providers discussed energy solutions, including how to incorporate renewables into the grid reliably. Bruce Howard of Avista shared data that demonstrated how wind and solar generation can vary widely, even in a single day. He said Avista is moving to 100% clean energy supply, but "we’re gonna need some killer innovation to get there on storage." Scott Madison of Cascade Natural Gas said that if society chooses to impose carbon pricing, it should be fair to natural gas customers and consumers across the state. Any tax money raised through carbon pricing should go back into reducing emissions and improving the energy network. Ben Farrow of Puget Sound Energy said they are working on a range of battery and storage projects, from substations down to consumer homes. He said storage works well for helping with short-term energy needs, but less so for the Pacific Northwest's seasonable energy demand variability.
- INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT: Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary Roger Millar and Joe Tortorelli from the Spokane Area Good Roads Association were the final panel of the day, chatting with Kristal Fiser from UPS. Millar laid out the state's unfunded transportation and infrastructure costs, including $7 billion need for highways and bridges, ferries and facilities; $1.5 billion needed for bridge retrofits; and $3.1 billion for fish passage (culverts). Tortorelli noted that the North Spokane Corridor will be an 80-year project from conception to completion. Envisioned generations ago, ground was broken in 2001 and it is set to be finished in 2029, so a 28-year build-out.
Our thanks to Boeing as the presenting sponsor, which made it possible for all AWB members to attend the virtual Spring Meeting at no cost.
Join AWB at our next big virtual event, the 2020 Federal Affairs Summit, to be held Aug. 11.