State agencies are creating regulatory unpredictability that is killing proposed ventures in rural communities and, along with the projects, jobs.
The time has come to have “the talk” about Washington’s economy and the role of government.
In a nutshell, it’s not working.
For months now, regulatory agencies have been taking action that is basically killing jobs and private investment in our state. This has occurred in communities outside of Seattle and King County, where the economy has been slower to recover and tech jobs are few and far between.
In Longview, the Department of Ecology usurped five years of state regulatory process, denying Millennium Bulk Terminals a water quality permit for a proposed export terminal based on criteria wholly unrelated to water quality. For more than five years and eight months, the state has asked Millennium to navigate its seemingly endless regulatory process under the guise that it might receive fair consideration for the terminal, which will initially export coal. The sudden about face on the water-quality permit makes one wonder if it ever stood a chance.
What regulators fail to understand is that the terminal, located on an existing industrial site near a deep water port, is about more than coal. Agricultural commodities are Washington’s second largest export, right behind aerospace products. Millennium Bulk Terminals is a multi-commodity terminal that could provide additional agricultural access to Asian markets.
Keep in mind this is happening in a state that is deeply tied to trade — where one in four jobs is tied to it and businesses from Boeing on down to the smallest supplier are now subject to the fickle whims of one state agency. Hopefully, whatever your business makes stands in the good graces of Ecology. If not, you might soon be out of business. Or at least, out of luck. In this case, state regulators were fixated on the commodity being transported — coal — and decided that was enough to deny the permit.
Another major regulatory hurdle interestingly also involving Ecology: the Hirst fix. This fight over water resources has held up the state’s $4.2 billion capital budget for months now, putting construction for residential homes, K-12 schools and mental health facilities on hold — along with the local jobs those projects create. This is to say nothing of the impact on rural landowners who find themselves with land, and wells, they cannot use.
Absent clarity from the state, this stalemate will likely drift on, leaving rural communities in the lurch.
This lack of regulatory predictability, particularly at the state level, will undoubtedly impact future investment in Washington state. Employers want regulatory certainty — how long it will take to build, at what cost — before locating here. That’s one investment incentive we’re currently lacking.
So the questions remain: What are we to tell the people in rural parts of the state whose primary economic advantage is a working port? Where there is no Amazon, Microsoft or other tech industry for miles?
It appears the state is tone deaf to the realities of working families in rural communities. And so the continued unemployment rate — and all of the baggage that comes with it — persists as the state tells people to move on. (Unemployment in Cowlitz County is 6.1 percent — almost double that of King County.)
In an Oct. 5 editorial (“An environmental victory for Washington, but economic challenges remain”), The Seattle Times editorial board wondered aloud, “How does Washington kindle economic development in rural areas and communities such as Longview; and, second, how do we ensure that the Department of Ecology’s expanded reach — incorporating economic and environmental factors beyond its normal scope — avoids morphing into an exuberant, job-killing agency?”
Those are important questions every Washingtonian should be concerned about in our still trade-based economy.
What part of “job-killing agency” do we not understand?