Opinion

Cleaner Tacoma industry can be built on middle ground

Tacoma City Council members have faced pressure from activists all year to crack down on industrial uses at the Port of Tacoma, including at this meeting in March featuring vocal opponents of Puget Sound Energy's proposed liquefied natural gas plant.
Tacoma City Council members have faced pressure from activists all year to crack down on industrial uses at the Port of Tacoma, including at this meeting in March featuring vocal opponents of Puget Sound Energy's proposed liquefied natural gas plant. News Tribune file photo

One of the most destructive and least civil ways to present environmental issues is in terms of false dichotomies.

But it does rile up parts of the electorate. In the recent Tacoma city and port commission elections, and last week at a City Council meeting, it was put forward that voters or council members had to choose whether they were pro-business or pro-environment.

Thankfully, wisdom and common sense prevailed. Voters on Election Day, and a majority of council members last week, were smart to reject the false choices.

Instead they embraced a middle ground. They voted for a healthy economy, but also for a clean environment and for continued advancement toward renewable and cleaner fuels.

In the case of voters, in most every situation where they were presented a clear alternative (in port commission contests, as well as Tacoma’s mayoral race and several council races), they rejected absolutist candidates who wanted to halt Puget Sound Energy’s LNG plant.

Instead they chose candidates who want a strong economy and job growth, but who also are willing to accept a transitional fuel that would enable ships berthing in Tacoma to use LNG and ditch the extremely dirty bunker fuel now in common use.

In the case of the council, a clear majority last week adopted some common-sense interim regulations for Tacoma’s Tideflats, while rejecting a bad idea: limiting expansion of existing businesses to only a 10 percent increase in storage, production or distribution capacity.

They need to keep that focus Tuesday when they take up the regulations for a final vote.

The council proposes to:

▪  Expand the notification zone for proposed heavy-industry projects to taxpayers living nearly half a mile from the project or from the boundary of an industrial zone like the Tideflats.

While greater notice boundaries make some sense, we’re guessing that nearby residents will be surprised by the hundreds of permits (perhaps even thousands) necessary for mundane operations of Tideflats businesses in the course of a year.

There’s a risk residents might start to ignore these as white noise, but if the notices are too numerous or innocuous, the council can always amend notification or permit requirements to a suitable level.

▪  Pause new non-industrial uses in the port and severely limit the ability of existing non-industrial businesses to expand.

We think that makes a lot of sense.

▪  Prohibit new residential development on the slopes above Marine View Drive.

That, too, is smart. A healthy economy requires the larger community to figure out how to enable residential areas to coexist with business and industry within Pierce County, and we think a thoughtful sub-area planning process is the best way to achieve that.

By concentrating industrial growth to a few areas, our past leaders ensured it wouldn’t sprawl into pristine or incompatible places. Greater residential density right next to Tacoma’s heaviest industries clearly doesn’t work.

▪  Ban coal terminals, new fossil-fuel-related industry, chemical storage, smelting, mining and similar heavy industries.

OK, although from a political, regulatory and expense perspective, they aren’t likely to locate in the Tideflats anyway.

So, we applaud the voters who recognized and avoided the siren song of simplistic solutions to very complex problems. Our economy and lives are dependent on transportation, which is still powered largely by fossil fuels and causes most of Washington’s pollution.

We have to wean ourselves away from a carbon-based economy, and we need to steadily increase the pace of that change, but we will only get there through transition. There is no switch we can throw that will instantly solve the problem.

Likewise, we recognize the courage it takes for City Council members to do the right thing, the complex thing, rather than bow to the loudest or angriest voice.

We need a healthy economy. We need to continue to clean up our environment. And we need to relentlessly push the transition toward renewable and sustainable energy.

We not sure even these interim regulations are necessary right now. We think the bettter solution lies in the long-term development of a subarea plan for industry.

But the council showed discernment and wisdom in the choices it made regarding the interim regulations last week. It needs to stay that course.

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