While our neighbors to the north and south of Washington watch their port infrastructure grow and flourish, our state – the most export-dependent in the nation – is improbably holding up billions of dollars in private infrastructure development that would only help us compete with California and Canada.
The delay with regard to the export terminal expansions in Bellingham and Longview is patently unacceptable. Proposed projects and potential investments in this state should benefit from a fair, timely and predictable review process. Yet that is not the case with these projects, whose review has been in process for three years and subject to numerous, ongoing delays.
It is one thing to politically disagree with these projects on the basis of exporting a particular commodity — in this case, coal — and to express concern over the environmental standards to which these projects must adhere. It is quite another to attempt to bind these projects with endless government bureaucracy and red tape in hopes that the investors will give up and go elsewhere. Our competition is ready and willing to accept new business and is making the needed investments to do so.
What’s more, I am confounded and disturbed by the chilling message we are sending to potential investors who may wish to invest billions here – in essence urging them to look elsewhere.
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The list of delay tactics is long and troubling. First, the Department of Ecology announced in 2013 that it would implement an unprecedented scope of review – going so far as to evaluate the impact of burning coal all the way on the other side of the world. The Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with completing the environmental impact statement (EIS), has delayed its release numerous times without satisfactory reason.
These delays were recently brought front and center as I joined with legislators from Montana and Wyoming who have a vested interest in our ports and traveled here for a site tour of the proposed expansion in Longview. We called — yet again — for a timely review process.
Yet, standing next to my colleagues was also a stark reminder that Washington is mismanaging a golden opportunity for our workers and economy. I could not help but wonder about our visitors’ impressions, as our decisions on these projects cannot possibly reflect well on our judgment.
Trade is the lifeblood of our state with 40 percent of Washington jobs linked to our trade economy. Furthermore, discouraging the growth of our trade infrastructure also negatively impacts our inland neighbors like Montana and Wyoming that depend on Washington to serve as their primary trade gateway to Asia.
Washington’s ability to compete in a global market and to attract related investment is absolutely critical to our economic well-being. Our leaders would do well to recognize this fact and act accordingly by bringing an end to the delay with these projects.
Sen. Tim Sheldon is a Democrat representing Washington’s 35th Legislative District. He serves on the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications, Transportation, and Rules committees.