Northwest Coal Terminals Advance Despite Opposition From Environmental Groups

As I’ve documented in previous posts, the organized environmental left is marshalling forces to oppose Powder River Basin (PRB) coal exports to Asia via ports in the Pacific Northwest. Despite their best efforts at fear mongering about supposed environmental effects, local officials are beginning to push back against the prevailing narrative. Realizing that the opposition is based on faulty premises, and realizing the potential economic impact, several local officials are beginning to come out of the woodwork to support this idea.

In an op-ed in the Bellingham Herald earlier this month, city councilors from Ferndale and Blaine came together to advocate for the ‘family wage’ jobs the proposed terminal would bring to Whatcom County:

Our good-paying industrial job base has been shrinking over many years, to the extent that Whatcom County’s average wage is now about 20 percent lower than the state average. We need to do everything we can to attract businesses that pay family wages and offer good benefits. Every lost opportunity extends the pain of financial stress for too many families. And less citizen spending power means fewer customers at local businesses and less tax revenue to support local schools and other vital services.

Once Gateway Pacific Terminal is operational, it will be the second-largest property tax payer in the county. The terminal would benefit the Ferndale and Blaine school districts, paying property taxes in both. These districts have voter-approved levies funded from the taxes paid by property owners in the district. The taxes paid by GPT would take the load off of other property owners in these districts by over $2.2 million every year.

The points being made are pretty obvious here:

·    Gateway Pacific Terminals’s taxes would take the load off of other property owners in the area by over $2.2 million every year;
·    Gateway Pacific Terminal would create new property tax revenues of roughly $4.8 million;
·    More than $600,000 in annual tax revenues could go to local fire district and $300,000 to local libraries;
·    Nearly $1.8 million of tax revenue would go toward Whatcom County and $1.7 million to Washington state;
·    Sales taxes would add an additional $700,000 annually to local jurisdictions in Whatcom County and an estimated $2.5 million annually to Washington state;
·    Once Gateway is up and running, economic studies show that more than 1,250 jobs will be created, with an estimated annual payroll of about $128 million;
·    These workers will likely spend about $17.1 million at local stores, restaurants and businesses each year;
·    During the two-year construction phase alone this would mean $12.3 million in local sales and use tax revenue, mainly in Bellingham, Ferndale, Blaine and Lynden;
·    Washington state would receive $44.3 million in sales and use tax revenue during the construction phase.

A press release a few days ago from The Alliance for NW Jobs & Exports highlighted more statements from local officials who see the benefits of these terminals:

“Exports are a critical component to economic growth.  The proposed bulk terminal facilities in the Northwest are just one example of the type of investment opportunities that could be harmed by federal export controls,” said Rich Hadley, CEO of Greater Spokane Inc. “Nearly 40% of jobs in Washington can be linked to trade.  I’m troubled by any effort to erect new barriers to exports that would put the U.S. at a disadvantage globally.”

The infrastructure investments generated by the terminals – which will export coal along with other commodities such as grain, potash, and timber – are gaining support among Washington’s agriculture, labor and business communities. 

“From our perspective, our trading partners in Asia need access to affordable energy, and we have an opportunity to benefit by meeting that demand here.  We’d much rather have these export-related jobs than see them move to Canada, or even to other U.S. ports competing with Washington,” said Matt McCoy of the International Trade Alliance. “Investments in infrastructure are key to preserving growth.”

“Meeting Washington’s long term rail goals will require substantial private investments, and this project will help meet these needs,” explained Chris Cargill, Eastern Washington director of the Washington Policy Center and ex-officio member of the Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce.

As local support is growing, national attention has started to focus on a joint letter sent by Democratic Governors of Washington and Oregon, Jay Inslee and John Kitzhaber. In a rebuttal to their March 2013 letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. Senators Barasso, Hatch and Inhofe expressed their strong opposition to the notion of delaying these terminals based on global environmental concerns:

On March 23rd, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment … that prohibits Federal agencies from considering greenhouse gas emissions produced outside of the United States by goods exported from the United States. During the debate on our amendment, the Chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee accurately stated that the amendment reflected current law. We trust you agree with this conclusion and that your agency will not take any action to change or contravene current law. To do so would have devastating consequences for American manufacturers, their employees, and our nation’s economy.

In January of 2010, President Obama set forth the goal of doubling our nation’s exports in five years. More than three years later, our nation is not on pace to achieve this goal. Part of the problem is the Environmental Protection Agency has aggressively expanded its interpretation of NEPA to block exports of American goods. Ross Eisenberg of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) highlighted this issue in testimony before the Senate on February 12th. Mr. Eisenberg testified that NAM “strongly opposes using NEPA to require a cradle-to-grave, lifecycle impact analysis that assesses the impact of [exported] cargo.” He explained that such a requirement “would create a very dangerous precedent that could be used to block exports of all types,” including automobiles, commercial aircraft, and heavy equipment, such as tractors.

They wrap up the letter with a common sense assessment: “With millions of Americans out of work, the last thing the [Obama] Administration should do is impose a climate change litmus test on these or any other exports. Instead, we must do all we can to increase American exports and the good-paying jobs they provide.

Increasingly it appears that local officials and the general public are starting to agree with the common sense idea that environmental alarmism should not affect the ability of families in the Pacific Northwest to explore new economic opportunities.

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