A state Senate bill to hasten permitting for major industrial projects magnifies the fault line in the debate over a proposed coal-export facility at Cherry Point near Bellingham. (And hell hath no fury like coal opponents provoked.)
SB 5805, a bill sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, illustrates the problem of contingency, the need to wide angle legislation to gauge potential outcomes, and the good and ill that flows from creative policymaking.
As The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield reported Monday, Hobbs’ bill is designed to benefit a long-delayed sand and gravel mine in Shine on the North Olympic Peninsula. The bill’s broad-brush language creates a catchall, however. Eligible projects would swell to include “the basic commodities of transportation, energy development, conservation or efficiency.” For lobbyists and Olympia wonks, idle language is the devil’s workshop. In response to the pushback, Hobbs said that he’ll work to cinch up language before the bill reaches the senate floor.
Although Hobbs backs the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point, he says the focus of his bill is gravel, not coal. Fair enough. The bill would also nix the requirement that affected communities provide written support for projects of statewide significance. Whether a project centers on gravel, coal, or rutabagas, it’s difficult to see how marginalizing local communities aligns with the public interest. Coal or no, this is an ill-conceived bill.
“It is beyond me why the Senate would push this explosive, politically charged legislation that fast-tracks coal exports by effectively eliminating any meaningful role for local communities,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle.
The legislation is a pretext for coal-train skeptics to seize and refine their strategy, concentrating on the economic, transportation and health impacts associated with Cherry Point. Coal exports are interstate commerce, and the feds and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will ultimately be the deciders. In the interim, legislators have a fiduciary responsibility to examine and understand the economic fallout, working to mitigate the impact on cities stretching from Spokane to Everett.
Hobbs’ bill, notwithstanding its intent, underscores the contingent nature of politics. A trial balloon by California lawmakers to siphon Columbia River water helped spur the National Environmental Policy Act. The Senate testimony of President Nixon’s pompous science adviser, Lee DuBridge, so angered lawmakers that it ensured creation of the Council on Environmental Quality. Consequences and intent are often mutually exclusive. SB 5805 spotlights the coal debate, but the outcome is anyone’s guess.