Op-ed: Federal roadmap for energy infrastructure must not burden state

By Kris Johnson Association of Washington Business

Between the news reports of back-logged commodities waiting to be shipped via over-congested rail lines and tales of our oil and gas renaissance in places like North Dakota far outpacing the pipeline capacity necessary to ship it to market, it’s no secret that our nation’s energy infrastructure needs updated.

It’s also no secret that the needs of the nation are not identical from coast-to-coast. As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz rolls out the first phase of the administration’s comprehensive strategy for modernizing the nation’s energy infrastructure in a couple of weeks, it’s imperative the administration consider the concerns of different regions of the country when making critical, long-term recommendations.

In Washington state, 40 percent of all jobs are linked to trade-related industries that are dependent on a well-integrated network of transportation infrastructure that supports not only interregional connections, but international ones as well.

As president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s largest business organization representing thousands of small, medium and large employers, it’s vital that the DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review process recognizes the value of trade infrastructure to Washington and its critical importance to our daily lives, the economy, and national security.

The trade industry supports more than 1 million jobs in freight-dependent sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, construction and forestry, producing nearly $434 billion in gross business income. However, in addition to the multitude of businesses listed, it also supports the freight movement of energy commodities as well.

Washington already benefits from over $115 million in private railroad investment annually. This investment is a critical piece of Washington’s trade infrastructure and has propelled our economy onto the fast lane of economic growth. According to a study done by the Washington Council for International Trade, freight rail alone contributes at least $28.5 billion to the Washington state economy and one in 10 jobs in Washington is related to rail activity.

In addition to rail, export growth is Washington’s best opportunity to spur economic development in the coming decades. Proposed export terminal expansions that service the international market with commodities from Washington state have the potential to provide an additional $800 million in wages and bring in more than $140 million in tax revenue.

We need to ensure that proper, consistent market signals remain in place to keep investments flowing into ventures such as the expanded terminals, so our economy can reap the full benefits that will come with building out state trade infrastructure.

Unfortunately, in Washington there are current government procedures under review that will delay infrastructure decisions and in turn deter investment opportunities in both energy and trade infrastructure ventures. Expanding capacity and improving our freight infrastructure is vital for all product shippers, energy related or not.

The DOE must set a clear standard in the Quadrennial Energy Review that will allow for timely and efficient review of infrastructure projects. It is important for us to act now and support infrastructure investment so that these opportunities can ultimately improve the job and trade capacities of the region.

We understand the complexity of finding responsible solutions to our infrastructure woes and harmonizing solutions to benefit the larger system.

However, growth opportunities for businesses and employment in Washington will continue to increase if our administration sets up a system that encourages companies to invest in our state’s trade infrastructure. Therefore, it is paramount that the DOE take into consideration regions like Washington that have a fundamental connection between energy and trade infrastructure and promote policies that encourage infrastructure investment, mitigate risk, and provide regulatory certainty.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing and technology association. AWB’s membership includes more than 8,300 private employers representing more than 750,000 employees.