Commentary: Opposition to fossil-fuel projects comes at cost

Energy projects in the state are being dismissed without counting the cost to jobs and the economy.

By Adam Lambe

For The Herald

Last month, while announcing a flip-flop of his position on a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Tacoma and methanol facility in Kalama, Gov. Jay Inslee attributed his change of heart to his fundamental opposition to fossil fuels and the emergence of what he called the “age of consequences.”

Gov. Inslee is right to say that our policy actions have consequences. But he is fundamentally wrong in the nature of the consequences he touts, as are those who subscribe to his outlook on the future of Washington’s energy and economic outlook.

Opponents of fossil energy resources in the state of Washington have grown increasingly bold in their tactics and rhetoric in recent years. They deal freely in assertions that investment in the future use of fossil energy resources will negatively affect our state’s future, and in doing so, they set dangerous precedents that stand in the way of growth and economic opportunity for thousands of Washington workers and their families and our state at large.

Ground zero for this all-out attack on logical energy and economic policy is Whatcom County. This month, the Whatcom County Council is expected to extend — for the seventh time — its moratorium on new fossil fuel facilities at Cherry Point. As the only area of Whatcom County zoned for heavy industrial use, this moratorium threatens to upend not only the area’s vital fossil fuel infrastructure, but also the broader prosperity of the entire community.

The Cherry Point Industrial Zone is home to thousands of good-paying jobs, and the businesses located within the area pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes on an annual basis, offering badly needed financial support to schools and other public services. The fossil fuel moratorium threatens that crucial economic impact by restricting the area’s further development, standing in the way of all new fossil fuel facilities at Cherry Point, from crude oil and coal to liquid petroleum gas and natural gas.

In advancing this moratorium, Whatcom County is sending a clear signal not just to the energy sector, but to all business entities: We don’t want your business. And while that may sound like a talking point that will win votes and public support in an environmentally inclined state like Washington, it ignores the very real impact that shutting our doors to business will have on our overall economic outlook.

Consequences, in other words, cut both ways.

Cherry Point isn’t alone in facing headwinds from environmental activists. The Port of Vancouver in southwest Washington is also under pressure to adopt a policy that would keep it from building fossil fuel terminals, a continuation of last year’s rejection of a large proposed oil terminal at the port.

Again, the Port of Vancouver’s proposal could seem modest to casual observers or fence-sitters. But the fact of the matter is that ideologically motivated policies like this send concerning messages of uncertainty businesses that hope to locate, invest, and grow in our communities. And, as stakeholders have noted, assurances from the proposal’s supporters haven’t necessarily allayed concerns from existing tenants that rely on fossil fuels — either directly or indirectly — to run their business. From Subaru to American Steamboat, fossil fuels are baked into the economic equation. The port’s proposal, for businesses like these, is cause for concern.

There’s nothing wrong with prioritizing environmental stewardship. In spirit, sustainability represents a way to plan for the best possible future; a future that balances the needs of today with the hopes of tomorrow. But that’s not what’s happening at Cherry Point or the Port of Vancouver.

In waging an all-out war on the very premise of fossil energy, activists are endangering the well-being of workers and their families; today and tomorrow. What’s more, the projects affected most directly by activist opposition would help to better and more extensively leverage cleaner fuels and more modern technology to power our economy. This all-or-nothing perspective on our energy future is needlessly self-defeating, rooted not in realism but in activism.

The hope, for those still invested in Washington’s economic future, is that the regulatory processes in place can steer clear of rhetoric and focus instead on an apolitical process rooted in science. If that happens, the merits of the proposals should carry pending projects across the finish line and keep Washington’s economy competitive.

Failing that, it’s safe to assume we will indeed feel consequences.

Adam Lambe is a business agent with the Laborers International Union of North America, Local 292 at its Bellingham office.

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