Unfortunately, hard times continue for too many Americans. Across the country, communities are in fierce competition to attract the kinds of jobs a family can live on. Good-paying, family wage job opportunities are becoming rare these days and rarer still when they don’t involve some type of public works investment.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal for Bellingham is one of these rare opportunities to create thousands of good-paying jobs in Whatcom County, an area that is still struggling to get something going to generate family-wage jobs. Gateway will create a multitude of family-wage jobs in the maritime, construction and railroad industries. That’s one reason, at its recent national convention, the AFL-CIO voted unanimously to support the Gateway Pacific Terminal project.
Why did the AFL-CIO come out in support of this project in Washington State? Because they support creating opportunities for both the building and transportation trades where many union craft, family-wage jobs still exist. Without new projects like the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, workers here may not find an opportunity to land a family-wage job and reach the middle class status some of us can recall from the 1960s and ’70s. The Gateway Pacific Terminal project provides an opportunity for jobs in a county where the effects of recession are still very evident.
Some critics of the Gateway project are saying, “Leave the coal in the hole”; we shouldn’t export anything capable of adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The problem with that approach is foreign countries will consume the same amounts of coal whether it’s lower sulfur U.S. coal or a lower-grade coal from somewhere else. What ought to be taken into consideration here is whether we, as Americans, will embrace an opportunity to create thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue, or will we allow that opportunity to pass? How so, some may be asking? Our neighbors to the north are ramping up to do exactly that. The aging Westshore coal export facility near Vancouver, B.C., plans to double its current capacity within seven years to accommodate the Powder River Basin thermal coal Washington turns away. If there is a market for U.S. coal products, it will find its way to market — via U.S. ports or very likely through Canadian ports.
The Gateway Pacific Terminal project is not just about coal exports. It is about development of our state’s trade infrastructure and the creation of jobs for decades to come. It is designed to have multi-commodity capabilities allowing for the export of a variety of bulk commodities including grain, limestone, iron, and more. One of President Barack Obama’s goals is to increase America’s exports. Every time we increase exports, we create jobs in America; we strengthen the local, state, regional, and the U.S. economy; and we take a step at lessening our own considerable trade deficit.
These are more reasons why the AFL-CIO supports the Gateway Pacific Terminal project in Whatcom County. Our unions, the Transportation Division of SMART (formerly the United Transportation Union), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the Pierce County Central Labor Council have endorsed this project from the very beginning because it will be built to the highest environmental standards on earth and it will create family wage jobs with benefits. Every time we create a family wage job, it represents a man or woman who, in turn, can provide for their family. Further, paycheck dollars earned through family wage jobs ends up being reinvested back in to the local communities and economy to the benefit of all.
Some critics of this project have tried to turn this into a debate over climate change, train traffic and most recently, ocean acidification. They are even trying to paint rail as being an environmentally bad transportation choice. Rail is, quite simply, the most environmentally sound option for transportation of interstate commerce. In fact, according to a recent independent study funded by the Federal Railroad Administration, railroads on average are four times more fuel efficient than trucks. As greenhouse gas emissions are directly related to fuel consumption, transportation by freight rail can provide reduced GHG emissions by as much as 75 percent. If just 10 percent of long-haul freight now moving by truck moved by rail instead, annual GHG emissions could be reduced by approximately 11 million tons — equivalent to taking nearly 2 million cars off the road or planting more than 250 million trees.
Moving more freight by rail also reduces highway congestion, which costs us over $100 billion each year just in wasted time (4.8 billion hours) and wasted fuel (1.9 billion gallons), according to a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute. A single “stack” freight train can carry the equivalent load of approximately 280 trucks. Shifting some of the load from trucks to rail also helps reduce highway wear and tear and the costs associated with maintaining our highways.
What Americans need to consider is this: Do we support strengthening our economy, 40 percent of which is dependent on trade, or do we allow trade opportunities, and the jobs that come with them, flow north of the border? The Gateway Pacific Terminal project and the Millennium Bulk Terminals project proposed for Longview are literally once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for Washington state. We can embrace opportunity, and all the benefits it provides or we can watch opportunity pass us by to our neighbors to the north. The choice is ours.
Mike Elliott is with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Herb Krohn is with the United Transportation Union, Mark Martinez is with the Pierce County Building and Construction Trades Council and Darrell Chapman is with the Snohomish County Labor Council..