Washington’s proximity to the Pacific Rim has long bolstered our trade-based economy, where one in four jobs is connected to exports. But geography will only get you so far.
What many fail to recognize is the importance of our state’s ports and infrastructure to our top-tier trade status. And building and maintaining a world-class infrastructure network — our system of railways, airways and waterways — is not cheap. It is also increasingly more difficult to build anything in Washington, given our seemingly endless and often duplicative regulatory process.
We’re watching this play out in Longview, where Millennium Bulk Terminals has waited almost five years just for permits to build an energy export terminal. It’s also happening in Vancouver with Vancouver Energy, where a 12-month permit application is in its 36th month of review.
No one doubts the need for a comprehensive review — that’s a necessary part of any large-scale project. In the case of Millennium, Gov. Jay Inslee himself said, “The permitting process has been a very extensive process.”
What’s questionable, though, are the time frames associated with these reviews: there are no fixed time frames. As a result, projects such as Millennium are subject to endless delays, forcing investors to wait, as with Millennium, or walk away.
Simply put, the lack of regulatory certainty is hurting job prospects and making it less likely other private employers will choose Washington as a place to do business. In Canada, project reviews are subject to a “shot clock” where the government has 18 months to make a determination. At a bare minimum, this provides some certainty to investors that they will have an answer at the close of that 18-month window.
Timeliness is clearly one part of the issue; inconsistent and evolving regulations are also problematic. The state’s life-cycle project review based on a specific commodity — in this case, coal shipped through Millennium — raises questions not only about the state’s regulatory process, but also what it means for any future commercial or industrial project looking to build here in Washington.
The approval of projects like Millennium Bulk Terminals and Vancouver Energy have broader implications for our economy and the future of our state. There are thousands of jobs on the line, good-paying, family-wage jobs in areas of the state forgotten by the tech economy. Project such as Millennium and Vancouver Energy provide the private investment needed to strengthen our rail lines, which are integral for an array of industries, including aerospace and agriculture.
We need to have a process that rewards projects that are responsive and address the concerns of the public and policy makers. We need a process that will attract investment, not drive it away to other states and counties.
If Washington wants to remain competitive in the global marketplace, we should make regulatory reform a priority, not a series of endless and ever-changing hurdles.
Larry Brown is the legislative and political director for the Aerospace Machinists 751. Matthew Hepner is executive director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington.