Opinion editorial by Rep. Liz Pike: Port terminal decisions will determine state’s future growth
With growing international and domestic competition, Washington's trade and export industry is at a critical point in its history. To ensure the longevity of our global trade industry and maintain our place as a leader in Pacific Rim trade, Washington must be willing to take advantage of an immediate and short-term opportunity to expand and diversify its ports. If we don't, other ports outside our state will gladly and aggressively snatch up those fleeting opportunities and the jobs that come with them.
Many of our competitors' ports are already much larger than Washington's, which places us at a competitive disadvantage as we feed the economies of the Far East. Fortunately, several opportunities have recently been made possible in Washington by private investments being considered for infrastructure projects, such as proposed terminal expansions in Longview and Cherry Point near Bellingham.
Diversifying trade opportunities would create the means for our region to expand its port sizes. The trade and export industry depends on safe, reliable, and efficient transportation systems, such as railroads and export terminals. Increased investments in transportation infrastructure, through privately-funded export expansions, would create a domino effect for other industries, simultaneously stimulating the state economy, while supporting local communities with new jobs and revenues.
Unfortunately, our government is in danger of derailing these proposed economic advancements by erecting insurmountable regulatory roadblocks. In July, the state Department of Ecology (DOE) took a radical departure against standard practice by dramatically expanding the scope of its environmental impact study (EIS) of the Cherry Point project. Essentially, it decided to evaluate impacts beyond Washington's borders – both nationally and internationally – an undertaking that is far outside our state's capabilities. It could soon do the same for the Longview project. This newer EIS scope could set a precedent that would result in regulatory paralysis for our economy, because any export expansion – even agriculture or timber – could be subject to these impossible new reviews.
We all recognize the importance of protecting our environment. And if there's one thing we've learned as a state over its history, its the importance of balancing jobs and industry with preservation of the quality of air, water and our natural environment. Washington has become the leader in this area, as we've seen with the forest and fish laws of our state – a balance that provides for harvest, preservation, jobs and protection of the environment. We can't afford to let politics stand in the way of new investment, particularly with the dynamics of international trade shifting. For example, even Boeing is diversifying its production locations, and we need to provide easy access to points around the world.
We are at a crossroads. Today's decisions will determine whether our ports flourish with new jobs and greater opportunity, or flounder as we relinquish those economic benefits to other states and nations, leaving Washington behind in global competition.
DOE will hold a public hearing Oct. 9, from noon to 8 p.m. at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Ridgefield, on the proposed terminal in Longview. This is an opportunity for local residents to comment on the scope of the coming environmental impact statement. I highly encourage everyone to attend – even those involved in bulk commodity exports, such as agriculture and timber – and speak up about the importance of putting people and family-wage jobs as our first priority.
Our regulatory agencies should encompass an attitude of helpfulness and not continue down the path of being a hindrance to economic development. Washington already has the toughest environmental laws in America. Let's ensure DOE's process of permitting a modern, safe and state-of-the-art export facility is done fairly and without prejudice.
With 40 percent of our state jobs being trade-related, we would pay a high price for looking the other way when presented with this opportunity. The cost of neglecting our future would be the loss of jobs and economic harm for Washington's trade industries.
Times are changing. Our economic future will depend on our ability to change with them – to embrace the infrastructure investments that ensure Washington's leadership in Pacific trade for generations to come.
Editor's note: Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, represents the 18th Legislative District and is the assistant ranking member of the House Environment Committee. For more information about Rep. Pike, visit: houserepublicans.wa.gov/pike.