The outcome of the debate over the Northwest Innovation Works methanol refinery proposed for the Port of Tacoma is not only a victory for the health and safety of our local environment, it is an inspiring sign of what people can accomplish when united in common cause.
Working together, a coalition of community groups stood up to a $3.4-billion petrochemical refinery backed by powerful interests and promoted by Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Now that Tacomans have told their leaders what they don’t want, it’s time to discuss what we do want: a vibrant and sustainable economic future. Here is the vision of RedLine Tacoma, one of the many community groups that worked to stop the refinery.
▪ Look to the future, not the past. Global warming is happening now, and it threatens everything from Pacific Northwest ocean life to our supply of fresh water.
At the 2015 Paris Climate Talks, the U.S. committed to cut CO2 emissions between 26 and 28 percent over 2005 levels by 2025; by the end of this century, the agreement calls for no net planetary greenhouse gas emissions. Great opportunities await cities smart enough to look ahead.
▪ No new fossil fuel infrastructure. Meeting these climate goals requires that we transition now from fossil fuels to zero-carbon energy sources. For the record, natural gas is both a fossil fuel and a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful by weight than CO2; for this reason, the Sierra Club has rejected the idea that natural gas is a “bridge” fuel.
On the other hand, we can expect incentives for solar, wind and tidal energy to increase. Tacoma is well positioned to participate in the shipping, manufacture and installation of all these renewables.
▪ Market Northwest products instead of selling off our natural heritage. Contrary to misinformation spread by refinery proponents, RedLine is pro-jobs and pro-business; we want those jobs and businesses to be sustainable.
In addition to green energy, we ask Port commissioners to explore other sustainable options for the old Kaiser Aluminum facility and for the Port generally. From shipping agricultural products to implementing new recycling technologies, we can envision many possibilities for a deepwater port. What we don’t envision is an industry that depends on resource extraction, such as selling off precious fresh water or exporting fracked natural gas.
▪ Consider externalities. An externality is a cost that an industry incurs but doesn’t pay for: cleaning up a polluted environment, providing medical care for people harmed by toxic emissions, absorbing the financial loss when non-polluting business are scared away.
Many industries are happy to dump externalities onto taxpayers and walk away with the profits. A green business that seems a less obvious moneymaker up front may prove more profitable in the long run once all costs are considered.
▪ Create a Low Carbon Enterprise Zone. Cities from Liverpool, England to Baoding, China have created LCEZs that offer financial incentives to companies developing green businesses. The NWIW methanol refinery was slated to receive $200 million in tax breaks. Why not offer tax incentives for low-carbon businesses in Tacoma instead? Creating a LCEZ at the Port of Tacoma would send a signal as to the kind of industry Tacoma wants to foster.
▪ Public debate must precede any EIS. The secret that no one ever tells us about environmental impact statements is that they rarely if ever advise against pursuing an industrial project. At most an EIS will suggest mitigations to reduce potential harm. This is why we need a robust public debate before any contract is signed or before a scoping process begins.
We also believe that a citizens commission should be created and charged with soliciting expert opinion on any large industrial proposals at the Port. It was a citizens group that brought independent biochemist and MacArthur “Genius Grant” winner Wilma Subra to inform Tacomans about what to expect from a methanol refinery. We believe the citizens commission should reflect Tacoma’s diversity and give the Puyallup tribe – which has been a leader in standing against fossil fuel development at the Port – full representation.
▪ We need elected officials who share our vision. Three Port Commission positions will be open in 2017. We need competitive races in which a status quo that clearly failed us is challenged by real leaders. We’re optimistic that politicians and business leaders have learned how committed Tacomans are to our collective destiny. We’re hopeful the next proposal will be truly green, not greenwashed, and that we’ll hear about it before a contract is signed. And we’re confident that we’ll never see another proposal the likes of the NWIW methanol refinery.
But just in case, we’ll be watching carefully.
William Kupinse, Val Peaphon, Juan Jose Chavez, and Dorothy Walker collaborated on this column on behalf of the RedLine Tacoma Team. For more information, go online to redlinetacoma.org.