By Darrell Chapman
Every time we create a job, it represents a man or woman supporting a family. Those paycheck dollars ripple throughout local communities like ours. After a lifetime of hard work, I urge our policymakers to focus on the working class, and what jobs can mean to families. I say this as the President of the Snohomish County Labor Council. I also say it as a veteran of two years in Vietnam; two years on the trans-Alaskan pipeline; and many more doing construction. As a veteran and a guy who has done the tough jobs my whole life — I can tell you that all I have ever needed in my working life is a job — I have turned every job into a roof over my head, groceries for my family and opportunities for my kids.
I don’t need to make the case for how much jobs matter here in Snohomish County. If you are anything like my friends, family and neighbors, you have seen job loss and underemployment firsthand. We cannot afford to be neutral when faced with the prospect of putting people to work. Most people would join me in saying that we need to make room for new industries here in Washington state. We are fortunate to have a chance right now to do just that.
You’ve probably heard about three proposals here in the Northwest for construction of new terminals for exporting coal and other commodities. The projects, proposed in Longview and Bellingham, Washington, and in Boardman, Oregon, would completely transform those local economies. I know I share many people’s opinion when I say that our region needs what these projects can bring — investment in our trade economy, new money for struggling local governments, and opportunities for family-wage jobs. Combined, the three Northwest projects will create thousands of jobs and millions in tax dollars while making it possible for lots of other types of export products to go to market. I am not shy about my excitement and look forward to adding my voice in support. We need these jobs now and we need government to commit to a fair and timely process for review.
That is why I was glad to see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announcement saying that it will conduct its own independent environmental review of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal. I think this means that the Corps is choosing a different path than the Washington State Department of Ecology. After all, many think that the Department of Ecology’s decision will set a new precedent that might disrupt any number of future trade-related projects in our state.
When the Washington State Department of Ecology released its intended method for evaluating the Cherry Point Terminal project in Bellingham, a lot of people who follow these things were pretty surprised. It included analysis of rail transportation in Washington state and beyond state borders; an assessment of how the project would affect human health throughout the state of Washington; a general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters; and an evaluation of greenhouse gas emissions that may or may not result from coal use in China.
Imagine if this same standard was applied to facilities built to transport apples or airplanes! I am really worried about what this may mean for the future.
From my own experience, and from talking with experts, I know that the Department of Ecology’s scope is much different than the usual approach. The only explanation I have for why the Department of Ecology would make this decision is that the environmental review process is being used to cater to project opponents who think that Northwest coal exports will increase worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is that the Gateway Pacific Terminal in Cherry Point near Bellingham makes up 1 percent of all of Asia’s annual consumption — much too small to impact demand or use of coal in Asia.
For people who do not like coal, the Department of Ecology’s decision may not seem like a big deal. I really encourage those people to think about the issue more broadly. After all, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that at some point the precedent that the state is creating today could affect permits for new aircraft manufacturing facilities. It’s not just Boeing who could be at risk in this scenario — everything we transport from wheat and barley to wine could suddenly be subject to the same set of reviews.
I am glad to share that part of the Department of Ecology’s environmental review process is dedicated to public comment — giving all of us a voice here. The Millennium Bulk Terminal project in Longview is currently going through the public comment phase and has joined the Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County to announce a series of public meetings happening throughout the state. The hearings are Sept. 25 in Spokane; Oct. 1 in Pasco; Oct. 9 at the Clark County Fairgrounds north of Vancouver; and Oct. 17 in Tacoma. I think these meetings are perfect opportunities to get involved and show support on this important issue.
I am excited for the possibility of more trade and jobs in Washington state. As a labor leader and a veteran I know the benefit of tax dollars resulting from private investment. It means safer communities, better care for veterans and investment in infrastructure. I proudly support these projects.
Darrell Chapman is currently the president of the Snohomish County Labor Council.