PRO: Port of Olympia required by law to ship legal cargo


Until recently, the export of crude oil from the United States was banned by the federal government, and, if it wanted to, the federal government could ban the import of fracking sand.

Why is that? The U.S .Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) gives Congress the exclusive power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the states and with Indian Tribes.

How would we like it if some South Dakota citizens told us to ban salmon fishing so the Puget Sound orcas would have more to eat? While climate change mitigation and orca preservation are important, neither Olympia nor the Port of Olympia has any jurisdiction over international or interstate commerce or over salmon fishing under federal Indian treaties. We are a nation ruled by law at the local, state and national level, such laws enacted by our elected representatives.

How does Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts determine “community values”? Did he consult with other law enforcement jurisdictions under Olympia’s interlocal agreement? There has been no Thurston County referendum on the values he alleges. No public port can discriminate against legal cargoes it is capable of handling any more than Chief Roberts can choose which members of the community to protect.

The Federal Shipping Act of 1984 (46 U.S.C. 41106) provides that marine terminal operators cannot unreasonably discriminate in the provision of terminal services, unduly or unreasonably prejudice or disadvantage anyone, or unreasonably refuse to deal or negotiate.

The Port of Olympia’s district is countywide, and its purpose under state law (RCW 53.04.010) is to facilitate transportation by land, sea and air. To ask the Olympia port to boycott legal cargo, like fracking sand or military equipment, is to ask it to violate applicable law — hardly the role of law enforcement.

If the police chief and the people who trust him want to change the law, they need to go to Congress.

However, Rainbow Ceramics (which ships the fracking sands in dispute) may have the right under its port contract to use other ports because the protesters delayed delivery of its cargo, a result that does nothing to reduce climate change.

The Port of Olympia marine terminal is historically significant, having been in operation for almost 95 years (since 1922). I am confident the current challenges can be overcome by diversifying cargo legally and keeping our port taxes among the lowest in Washington state.

Clydia Cuykendall is an Olympia attorney who served on the Port of Olympia Citizens Advisory Committee during 2009-2015.

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