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Is Anyone in Washington Listening?

Officials from states like Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming are speaking up about the benefits their states have received from increased trade capacity through investments in port expansion. They are speaking directly to Washington regulators whom they believe are purposely and perhaps illegally using their power to thwart job creation and economic expansion in the state. While the Washington Department of Ecology slowly conducts environmental impact studies  on 2 local terminals – Millennium Bulk Terminal and Gateway Pacific Terminal – Attorneys General Tim Fox and Wayne Stenehjem, former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Governor Matthew Mead all question the political motivations and implications behind such a process. “And while they don’t come quite out and say it, they are hinting that if the state Department of Ecology jiggers the permitting process in a way that allows Washington to reject a shipping terminal of national significance, an interstate court battle could ensue,” says Washington State Wire’s Erik Smith. Wondering why officials from other states are getting involved? The expanded scope of these environment impact studies and its most recent use as a political puppet could set precedent on a local and national level. “The U.S. Constitution says only the federal government can regulate interstate and international commerce. ‘In the scoping decision for the Cherry Point project, Ecology essentially substituted its judgment for that of the U.S. government on both of these issues,’ [McKenna] says. But never has Congress given states the authority to do such a thing.” All eyes will be on Washington over the next few months as it dangerously sails unchartered waters, having the very real potential for detrimental effects within the environmental and commerce jurisdictions.  

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New Coal Dust Study Raises Questions

Dan Jaffe, a professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry at the University of Washington-Bothell, released the findings of his coal dust study, which he funded through crowdfunding, on Monday. While this release packed a punchy headline, I cannot help but question the nature of the report. Although I’m just a farmer, and not a scientist, I do understand the problems with opposition groups’ claims about coal dust –the lack of empirical evidence. It’s simple: if coal trains released the amount of coal dust the groups are suggesting, there would be mounds of coal dust on the sides of Washington’s train tracks. But, the reality remains, there’s not. Coal trains are nothing new to our area. Washington has been transporting coal through our region for over a hundred years without any complain. In fact, the Northwest Clean Air Agency and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have no record of coal dust complaints or related health or environmental hazards. That’s a long time to have no complaints. Moreover, rail transportation is one of the greenest forms of transportation. And, though the transportation is not without fault, it is one of the safest and most efficient means to carry domestic products to ports. Private investments in coal exports will help expand our region’s rail infrastructure, allowing a greater number of all domestic products to reach the market place. I don’t know Professor Jaffe, but I believe we should evaluate all the pros and cons of these proposed export facilities. This one particular study is about one specific issue, coal dust. But, this community discussion should be much larger than one commodity. I believe that we are running out of time to get this project started –it’s time […]

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Longview City Council: Too Far?

The Longview City Council submitted a public comment letter about the Millennium Bulk terminals that suggested ten areas for the Environmental Impact Statement to cover, including transportation, air quality, surface water quality, groundwater, noise and vibration, light pollution, emergency service access, local economy, and nearby neighborhoods. While I understand the city council members’ desire to protect their community, some of the letter’s requests would be outside the scope of a typical environmental review. Washington and Oregon have both been able to build prosperous trade and export industries by successfully balancing environmental protection with industry development. This proposed export terminal is no different. Changing the regulatory process would imply that any new terminal expansion, whether it be airplanes or grains, could be susceptible to the same global reviews. This uncertainty will deter future industries from investing in our region, leaving our trade and export industry without the necessary funds to continue growing and developing. For a trade dependent region, nothing could be worse. Elected officials should understand that any one off changes to a policy matter will create an inconsistent regulatory process and dangerous business climate for the region. Expanding the environmental review is a dangerous precedent for our region that could ultimately undermine the future of our trade and export industry.

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New Portland Business Alliance Study on Exports

A new report by the Portland Business Alliance studied our state’s dependence on international trade and investment, finding that nearly 490,000 jobs are directly and indirectly tied to this industry.  With such a large portion of our economy resting on the viability of the trade and export industry, our state must continue to find new ways diversify and expand export opportunities. A few highlights of the study include: Over 78,500 Oregon jobs are a direct result of our trade and export industry.  The majority of Oregon exporters are small businesses. Increased exports keep export costs low for regional farmers, like myself. This allows a greater amount of Oregon products to reach growing international markets. Bulk commodity trade results in nearly half of direct jobs linked to port activity As a farmer, I found the report’s findings on bulk commodity exports of particular interest.  According to the report, bulk commodity exports, such as wheat and copper, account for nearly half of the exports out of the Portland/Vancouver ports. Large investments in these types of facilities have an ability to benefit other bulk commodity exporters. Reports, like these, only reinforce the importance of investments in our ports. These types of investments create a domino effect, helping the entire trade and exporters. It’s time we move forward with the authorization of proposed export expansions.

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Encourgaing Growth in Rural and Urban Oregon

Recently, the Statesman Journal published an article noting the growing economic discrepancy between rural and urban areas of our state. While the growth of urban development is certainly not a bad thing, the growth of cities at the expense of rural communities does an economic disservice to the state. There are policy and regulatory decisions our state could make that creates better economic development opportunities for rural counties, something I fought for in my years in the legislator. I did so because I personally witnessed the rapid decline in rural communities I represented because of public policy changes in the 90’s and later years. This is because rural regions of Oregon typically rely on more traditional industries, like farming and timber production for their economic development. These are the industries that have been hardest hit by these same policy and regulatory changes (not to mention our latest recession) and as a result, in the greatest need for economic development, not to mention the rural communities where they are located. Oregon has economic and export opportunities before us today, like the proposed export expansion made possible by private investment in coal exports. Projects, like these, provide a fundamental boost to local employment and tax revenue, spurring economic development. Traditional industries, natural resource and manufacturing however, have had a difficult time getting authorization for new opportunities in our state.  So much so, that when I entered the Oregon Legislature in the late 90’s, the Governor created a special Executive Branch team to deal with bureaucratic roadblocks to such rural economic development, an effort that continues to this day.  I find it a bit ironic that the same Governor who created such a ‘Community Solutions’ team is the […]

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Regulatory Consistency Will Fuel Economic Longevity of Our State

Herb Krohn, Washington State legislative director for the United Transportation Union, published an opinion editorial in The Everett Herald on the consequences of inconsistent regulations, specifically noting Governor Inslee’s special treatment of particular industries and companies. While these industries are greatly important to Washington’s economy, Krohn warns that inconsistent regulations could ward off potential economic development in the state. This got me thinking: Don’t we have a similar problem in Oregon?  In December, Governor Kitzhaber called the Oregon Legislature to a special session to pass a piece of legislation, which solidifies a 30-year tax deal with Nike. This legislative deal was struck after Nike threatened to expand outside of Oregon. I should make it clear that I don’t doubt Nike’s importance to our economy, and I think any action to help keep businesses in our state is important. However, Governor Kitzhaber bent over backwards to strike a deal with one company, while other companies are unable to make large, private investments in our state due to regulatory uncertainty. We cannot allow our elected officials to use regulations as a way to encourage and discourage private investments; not only is this bad policy, our economy cannot afford to turn away new economic opportunities. Nike’s headquarters are located in Beaverton, Oregon, a city outside of Portland. While this company is important to our state, it cannot support our entire state’s economy. Our elected officials need to understand that diversity in industries and products will result in a more robust economy, which is why as a 5th generation Oregon farmer, I support the private investment in the Port of Morrow expansion. The proposed export expansion, made possible by investments in coal exports, in our state serves as a […]

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New Study by WRC Shows Rail Importance

A new study, the first in a four-part series by the Washington Research Council (WRC), reveals the integral role rail transportation plays in the development of the state’s trade and export industry. With the dynamics of international trade shifting and global competition increasing, the WRC studied the different components of trade and export industry to understand the economic necessity to expand export opportunities. This research is also important to our state, because Oregon is just as trade-reliant as Washington. Between our two states, nearly one in four jobs are dependent upon the trade and export industry. By ensuring the longevity of this industry, we’re setting the foundation for our economic future. Oregon’s international competition is increasing due to the growing international demand for products. A perfect example of this competition can be found just north in Canada. The British Columbia export facilities, which have grown, in large part, due to the international demand, are looking to expand quickly to get ahead of international competition. Something the Pacific Northwest should be working towards, as well. WRC president, Richard Davis, understands that our region’s export industry is at a critical point. According to the Davis, “The decisions we will make on these two port projects, on trains and rail investment, could very well determine whether we maintain our advantaged transportation position.” The study shows private investments will aid the smaller components of the trade and export industry, like rail infrastructure, helping our region remain a global leader. As I have written about many times on this blog, it also helps other smaller trade dependent industries, like agriculture and more specifically, my farm. Research like this highlights what we already know –we need to expand trade and export […]

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Will WA Make OR Wait?

Several weeks ago, the Washington Department of Ecology announced a two-year (unfortunately, this is not a typo: two-years) environmental review of the proposed export expansion in Cherry Point. The review will include study of the export facility, the multi-state transportation of coal, and the global influence of coal. Washington’s announcement left me shaking my head, wondering: How on earth will this review actually be conducted? And, moreover, what does this mean for Oregon? The environmental study is vast and completely unchartered territory, leaving me to question how Washington plans to, or even if they have the capability to, track not only a multi-state, but global review of this commodity. It seems pretty outlandish. There are two underlying items that should be brought to light: has this study gone outside the state’s jurisdiction and, as a result, this overreach sets a dangerous precedent for future business development. Washington has literally chosen to conduct an international review –I think the overreach speaks for itself. The majority of increased regulations can be pointed to as a display of an overreach a state’s authority, but rarely does a state so egregiously overstep their boundaries. The scope of this project is so far-reaching that it feels a little more like a stall tactic by the state government than a feasible review. Washington, as well as Oregon, has stringent environmental rules and regulations to allow our states to both prosper economically, while preserving the environment. This change in regulation, especially at the expense of economic activity, may ward off any future investments in our trade an export industry. Inconsistent regulations will undermine business development, and this review is about as unpredictable has regulations could be. Now, this does have some consequence […]

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Oregon’s Tough Economic News

Oregon received sobering economic news this week, with data indicating a stall in hiring and an increase in jobs lost in June. While these sluggish economic numbers are disconcerting, I’m most anxious about the root cause of these figures: slowed growth in manufacturing and reduced activity at the Port of Portland. These industries are essential to our economy, and if we allow these industries to stumble, it would have an adverse effect on the rest of our economy. At a recent roundtable, our state’s manufacturing sector explained that their economic contributions were often overlooked by elected officials. I heard the same thing when I served in the Oregon legislature, but it seems that their comments now have a greater sense of urgency. Manufacturers represent a wide range of industries, from technology to exports, so the health of the manufacturing field is typically an indicator of the health of our overall economy. A stall in manufacturing typically signals a stall in general growth, meaning industries are either not growing or their decreasing activity. Slowed activity at the Port of Portland is also a worrisome sign. Our trade and export industry is a bright spot for our local economy, with almost one in four of our region’s jobs being tied to trade. So, any stall or slow in this industry would have a profound ripple effect on the rest of our overall economy, something that would be a detrimental setback for our sluggish recovery. The solution to reigniting these industries is simple: Foster economic growth. The manufacturing and export industries benefit from large, private investments, which would help spur development, especially at the ports, and provide a foundation for long-term growth. With growing international demand and our […]

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Ag Exports Matter4

Recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Oregon’s agriculture production is worth a record $5.4 billion, a record high for our state, suggesting that our agriculture industry is largely recovered from the most recent recession. I know this firsthand as I am receiving the highest prices ever in my years of farming. Our state needs to take advantage of this upward momentum; one sure-fire way to do so is to expand exports. Our region has the capability to expand our exports to meet the increasing demands of global markets. Expansion of our ports allows for increased trade with Asian markets for bulk commodity industries, like coal, agriculture, and timber industries. More trade means more economic activity, resulting in increased opportunities, through job growth and state revenues. Private investments, such as the proposed export facilities made possible by coal exports, provide a stimulus for the entire export industry. Most of our state’s agriculture products increased their production over the past year. So, providing new outlets for this production will help the in the long-term growth of our industry.  Our state’s top ten agricultural products include: greenhouse and nursery products, cattle and calves, hay, milk, wheat, grass seed, potatoes, pears, corn for grain, and onion. As a grass seed farmer, I understand how expanded exports can directly affect a small farm. My farm’s grass seed is now being exported to China, a market that was not available a few years ago. This new market helped my farm in two ways: First, my farm’s cash flow increased because of higher prices from demand from China and secondly I am paid more quickly for my grass seed as it is shipped immediately upon harvesting and processing, […]

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