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2013 Five Pillars of Prosperity for Oregon
Four state issues and one national issue for greater prosperity.
We believe the Oregon legislature will advance the prosperity of our state – our entire state – if it focuses on these key issues this year.
Will Oregon jobs be a casualty of the war on coal?
Proposed terminals in Coos Bay, St. Helens and Boardman would bring new jobs and tax revenue
Activists waging a national war on coal have turned their sights on the Pacific Northwest, targeting proposed shipping terminals in Oregon and Washington that would export coal to China.
They're aggressively lobbying federal officials to change how these projects are evaluated. If they succeed, our economy could become a casualty of the war on coal.
Current proposed Oregon shipping terminals include terminals in Coos Bay, St Helens and Port of Morrow, near Boardman.
Currently, such projects undergo a rigorous environmental review known as an Environmental Impact Statement involving months or even years of public hearings and analysis by federal, state and local regulators. The EIS for each project must also examine the cumulative impacts of other potential activities in the area.
But opponents want to insert a second, more expansive layer of environmental review, which some are calling a Programmatic EIS, which would have to be completed before each individual project EIS could begin. This additional review would include all of the Oregon and Washington proposals to analyze their potential "cumulative" economic and environmental impacts across the region, the U.S. or perhaps the world.
For example, if the proposed terminals are built, what would be the additional environmental impacts of the coal mines in Wyoming and Montana? What are the additional environmental impacts along the rail lines from the mines to the terminals? How about the environmental impacts of shipping the coal to Asia? Or the global impact of Asia burning U.S. coal?
Don’t think this could happen? Think again.
Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, the Washington State Department of Ecology, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, and the city of Seattle are among those urging the U.S. Corps of Engineers to change the rules. They want the Corps to conduct a special analysis of the so-called cumulative effects of all the proposed terminals.
Even if this extra layer of analysis didn't ultimately block the projects, it would delay them for years. The opponents' presumed goal is to create delay and legal gridlock, making it so difficult, time-consuming and expensive that the backers ultimately give up.
Call it "death by a thousand lawyers."
Eric Johnson, executive director of the Washington Public Ports Association, agrees that these projects should undergo rigorous review. "However," he notes, "this review should be of the project itself, not of the overall system of commerce across our region, the United States, or as urged by some commenters, the entire world."
Johnson warns, "If this precedent is applied to all products imported and exported through our port transportation system, we will bog our project review timeline down in needless process."
Consider the possibilities.
Want to expand an aircraft manufacturing facility? Why not require the study of the pollution impacts of all of the manufacturer's subcontractors worldwide? Why not examine the greenhouse gas effects of jet engine exhaust around the globe?
Would it ever go this far? No one knows for sure, but would we want to take that chance?
For employers trying to decide whether to locate or expand their business in Oregon, the uncertainty is enough to convince them to take their business -- and their jobs -- elsewhere.
But regardless of how you feel about coal being railed, barged, or trucked and then exported from Oregon ports, the precedent set if a Programmatic EIS is ordered goes far beyond coal.
It is dangerous – and all Oregonians who care about our economy and job growth should be concerned about it regardless of what industry or business you are in. If it is ordered, then no industry is safe.
Attribution this week is given to Mr. Don Brunell, for his authorship of this week’s message. Mr Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org.