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President's Column

Tuesday, May 10

Washington’s regulatory process is sending the wrong message to employers

As Washington’s tech sector expands, it may be tempting to believe that blue-collar jobs are no longer an important part of the economy, and that politicians and government officials can afford to drive away industries they don’t like.

The assumption is that high-tech jobs will take their place. That’s a dangerous assumption.

It’s true that innovation is thriving in Washington, creating jobs and whole new industries. But the boom has not reached every corner of the state, and it’s not realistic to expect that high-tech jobs alone will sustain our economy.

That’s why a recent series of actions by state and federal officials that can only be viewed as making it difficult for employers to invest in Washington state is so concerning.

Consider the recently released draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the proposed expansion of the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview. Millennium wants to expand operations at a former aluminum smelter to export coal and other commodities.

Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, so every business in the state that’s connected to trade — and that’s about 40 percent of them — should be concerned about this.

Not only was the Millennium DEIS more than 3,000 pages long and more than four years in the making, but it also included the seemingly arbitrary and unprecedented demand that Millennium mitigate 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the project.

In other words, Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration wants the company to cut in half the global emissions generated by the products shipped out of the terminal, even though historically Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act has been used only to address local environmental impacts.

Requiring this kind of global review sends a message to employers and workers alike that political ideology is driving regulatory decisions, not objectivity and facts.

That’s not the Washington way, and it’s not a message we can afford to send right now. Unemployment is low in the central Puget Sound region, but it’s creeping back up in parts of the state.

Rather, our leaders should be using a coherent, predictable regulatory process that protects both the environment and jobs, including blue-collar positions. Such a system would make it clear to employers that Washington welcomes responsible investment.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced recently it would not issue a key permit for the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Whatcom County, siding with the Lummi tribe which claimed it would violate treaty-protected fishing rights.

It’s disappointing to say the least.

Like the Millennium project, the Gateway Pacific Project has been under consideration for years and has turned into a political target. Also like the Millennium project, it would create family-wage jobs during and after construction, and it would provide important trade-related infrastructure to strengthen Washington’s access to international markets.

These are just two examples of the kind of projects that have apparently fallen out of favor with government regulators and a segment of the public.

It’s not a healthy trend. Washington obviously needs appropriate regulation to protect the environment. But we also need predictable and fair regulatory processes that allow for economic development. We need a diverse economic agenda that works for all of Washington.

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