Vocal special interests ignoring science on coal dust

March 30, 2014 

The recent release of air-quality samples from Northwest Washington are the latest factual findings in a series of air-agency reports from across the region in recent years that have shown no actual impacts from coal dust.

It’s no secret that coal has been safely transported through the Northwest for more than a century. Continued monitoring by the Northwest Clean Air Agency found no evidence of harmful air pollution levels in more than a year’s worth of air-sampling data that the agency had collected between February 2012 and September 2013.

Prior to that, the Spokane Clean Air Agency said this about the impact of coal dust to our region: “After reviewing how coal dust is treated once it is loaded, Spokane Clean Air is fairly confident that this will not be an issue for local quality impacts.”

These scientific findings continue to be intentionally ignored by a small, vocal group opposed to fossil fuels in any form as they seek to stop the export of affordable U.S. energy products to Asia. These small, well-funded special interests already have pressed for and won radical changes to the regulatory-review process that are raising serious concerns for our state.

For the first time, state reviews of major investments will now be mandated to evaluate the global life-cycle effects of products and commodities originating in or transported through Washington.

Arbitrarily altering the state’s long-standing regulatory review process by attempting to add a new, untested and unprecedented global methodology increases uncertainty for businesses and communities and could severely threaten billions of dollars in major trade investments in our state.

State officials claim this global-review process is nothing new, but that is disingenuous at best. The State Environmental Protection Act was created specifically to limit unpredictability and to ensure that the law utilizes factual information, not politics or emotion, in determining how major facilities will be built.

Expanding trade benefits our entire region. It opens new markets for many industries, creates needed jobs for skilled labor, and generates millions in new tax revenue to support key community services such as schools and first responders.

With trade supporting 40 percent of jobs in Washington, the export industry remains the backbone of the Northwest economy and the middle class. Growing, making and moving products and commodities through our state to global markets provide a diversity of employment and strong wages. When those jobs leave, we know all too well the decline that follows.

The Northwest must expand export capabilities to keep up with growing competition. Canadian and other U.S. port regions are making substantial investments to take advantage of America’s growing trade with Asia — threatening our position as North America’s gateway to Asia. To maintain our competitive edge, we must secure new investment, not play politics with investors and shippers who can, and will, go elsewhere.

These controversial and unprecedented changes to the review of trade-related projects will have damaging and lasting consequences to Washington’s economy and reputation, along with potentially devastating results for our long-term economic future.

Predictability is the bedrock of private investment and a keystone for the preservation and expansion of our state’s transportation infrastructure. Yet this misguided, expanded state review process has already led to possible legal action by neighboring states, a bipartisan letter of concern to Congress, and a warning from the National Association of Manufacturers that Washington may be undermining U.S. trade policy and violating WTO rules.

With no standard guideline of what qualifies projects for expanded review, state regulators in effect have appointed themselves final arbiters of “winners and losers.” Our state has relied on our already rigorous environmental review system with great success for decades. Now we are suddenly impeding our own ongoing and long-term future economic well-being based not on facts, but instead on a politically driven and unsubstantiated fear-based agenda.

Herb Krohn is the state legislative director for the Rail Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Union, formerly the United Transportation Union.

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