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A Slow Start

Oregon’s coal export facility received some good news last week: The Department of Environmental Quality both issued the draft permits for the proposed coal export terminal at Port of Morrow and will begin holding public hearings in July. Although this is a step in the right direction, this announcement has been a longtime coming.

Morrow Pacific, the company funding the coal export expansion, first applied for these permits a little over a year ago in February 2012, and they have only just received the first of three drafts for the permitting process.

So, while this is good news, I’m worried that this slow and drawn out approval process will be a disservice to our state and local economy. As a former Oregon legislator with oversight of DEQ, I believe this process should have progressed much more quickly. Oregon government officials have fast tracked other more politically correct energy activities in times past, yet seemed to process these permit applications more slowly.

Moving forward, the DEQ will be holding public hearings about the proposed export terminals in July. My only hope is that the focus of these hearings is not on the outspoken minority, but the economic benefits the export facility would provide.  With over 3,000 jobs and almost 8 million in state and local taxes, our state has a significant economic stake in this export facility.

We need to use the comment period as a platform to express our support for the coal export facilities –let’s do our part to encourage private investments in our state. If you’re interested in finding out more information on the public comment period, check out the DEQ’s website.

By |June 6th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Recap from Radio Interview with Spokane’s Mike Fagan

Last week, I interviewed Spokane City Council Member Mike Fagan on the “Bill Post Radio Show” in an attempt to bring some common sense to the coal export debate.

Our conversation kicked off with a discussion of the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports’ letter to Governor Inslee questioning whether Washington is really open for business, noting the governor’s double standard in his treatment of the airplane and coal industries. Councilman Fagan highlighted the soaring unemployment rate in the Washington counties, a consequence of the decline in timber and other export industries, as evidence of the disparity in economic prosperity in Washington.

Unfortunately, our state is suffering a similar situation due to an inconsistent regulatory process.

We need our elected officials to understand the diversity of both of our state’s economic needs –the small, outspoken opponents to the coal export facilities cannot be allowed to dictate our states’ discussions.

Check out the link below, between the 20:05 and 38:55 minute mark, to listen to the entire discussion.

By |June 4th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

WA Leaders Support Exports, Radio Show Today

This week a group of Washington labor, business, and agricultural leaders sent a letter to Governor Inslee highlighting the Governor’s double standard when it comes to economic development opportunities for the state-a feeling Oregon knows all too well.  The coalition pointed out that Governor Inslee’s recent initiative, the “Aerospace Industry Strategy”, which works to streamline permitting process and reduce regulatory burdens for Boeing, is in direct contrast to his treatment of the proposed coal export facilities.

What struck me in particular about the letter was when it explained the very regional consequences of missed economic opportunities which we are facing in our home state as well.

Oregon suffers from the same regional unemployment rates as Washington –pockets of our state are doing exceedingly better than others. For the most part, this is a reflection of the industries that would develop in the particular areas. Because of the various regional industries, Oregon, much like in Washington, requires widespread economic investment, and the best way to cultivate that is through diverse, private investments

The coalition explains that regions will benefit from different industries, so while Seattle may be able to support tech jobs, southern Washington is typically supported by more traditional industries. In welcoming one industry, Boeing, and dismissing another, the coal export expansion, Governor Inslee is oversimplifying the state’s economic needs.

This is an important sentiment for Oregon  –we cannot welcome certain industries and exclude others. It’s a short-sided economic policy, which will ultimately undermine our regional industries.

Washington business leaders can contrast the way Governor Inslee has courted Boeing with the way he opposes the proposed coal export terminals as a clear regulatory discrepancy. In Oregon, we can point to the letter Governor Kitzhaber, along with Governor Inslee, sent to […]

By |May 31st, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Lessons from a Paper Mill

Last week, President Obama toured the Northeast on his “Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour” promoting his new rule, which will expedite infrastructure authorization processes and improve efficiency, so “more money back into local economies.” And, I could not help but notice the discrepancy between the president’s industry focused message and Oregon’s industry effacing actions.

Our president is discussing industrial expansions and private investment as the catalyst to spur the economy; all the while, there are groups in Oregon who seem to stall economic development at all costs.

I recently wrote about the economic opportunity Oregon missed when Kinder Morgan abandoned plans to develop a coal export terminal at Port of St. Helens. As it turns out, conservation and environmental groups weren’t just opposed to the coal export terminal, but any expansion of Port St. Helens. The Daily News reported that groups “are opposing an effort to designate more land for industrial purposes at Port Westward.”

I’m worried about the precedent that’s being set here. If opposition groups continue to oppose industry expansion at port terminals, then how will our state’s trade and export industries keep their economic edge?

Think about how this has already affected the coal export terminals. These opposition groups are making a strong effort to delay or even undermine the authorization process of the coal export terminals, both in our state and Washington, through lawsuits and calls for extended environmental reviews. Since the export industry is such a large part of our economy, our state has already set up a stringent environmental review process. If opposition groups set a precedent to oppose economic expansion instead of trusting the review process, companies will look to develop elsewhere. Oregon would miss out on the economic […]

By |May 28th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Reality Check: An Economic Wake Up Call

Kinder Morgan, the company behind one of the two proposed coal export terminals at the Port of St. Helens, announced earlier this week that they are abandoning plans to develop a coal export terminal. While Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia River keeper and a member of Power Past Coal is positioning this as “another huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies,” his celebratory comments are indicative of the short-sightedness that is taking place in the debate on the coal export terminals.

The real takeaway here is that Oregon lost a prime economic opportunity to expand our state’s export capabilities –an expansion that would have benefited other Oregon industries, like agriculture, my bailiwick.

Oregon’s economy is backed by the trade and export industry; in 2012 alone, Oregon’s export merchandise was valued at over $18 billion. Unfortunately, this coal export terminal is not the first time private export industries have encountered problems in our state –the timber and agriculture industries encountered similar problems as I have witnessed as a fifth generation farmer.

Our economic structure dictates that obstructed economic development opportunities will likely have subsequent, and sometimes unintended, consequences elsewhere. In other words, the coal facilities would have provided increased exports opportunities for other industries –an opportunity for growth which is now gone.

A large, private investment would have benefited the entire economy. In 2011, 89% of companies that exported from Oregon ports were small (like mine) and medium-sized with fewer than 500 employees. With increased access to rail and expanded export capabilities, these companies could have been given a better opportunity to grow. On a personal level, exports directly affect the cost of my grass seed –without expanding exports, I will have to pay a […]

By |May 10th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

A Rigged ‘Litmus Test’ for Port Expansions

By now, the futility and absurdity of applying an unprecedented global warming litmus test to the proposed coal export projects should be clear to anyone examining the facts of the case. As I mentioned in my blog last week, Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead recently added his name to the long list of those who oppose this expanded and unnecessary environmental review, noting that inconsistent environmental reviews jeopardize industry development.

Compared to Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber, Governor Mead represents good sense, if you are for economic growth, good paying jobs and generating the kind of regional wealth that sustains the way of life we all cherish here in Oregon.

In Oregon, we have seen the fall-out from these types of short-sighted political decisions previously, case in point, the timber industry. Due to political and legal maneuvering, the timber industry has lost thousands of jobs and has been decimated in this state over the past 20 years. We cannot let history repeat itself with the opportunity we have to export coal.  Exporting coal will lead to good-paying jobs in our state.

Laura Stevens, a Portland-based representative of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign, has admitted that the issue of train traffic is really a sidebar to the real issue of expanding the ports. What she and other environmentalists want is to block the use of coal, anywhere in the world if they can. That’s why you don’t see the Sierra Club and other groups protesting the rail shipment of grain and other goods necessary to our Northwest export economy.

The main objective of the “Beyond Coal” campaign “is to replace dirty coal with clean energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities to advocate for the retirement of old and outdated […]

By |May 9th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Coal Helps Clean an Export Terminal

Just across the Columbia River from Oregon, there’s an impressive clean-up that’s taken place at the former Reynolds Aluminum, now the Millennium Bulk Terminal site, in Washington. The Alcoa Corporation has submitted a plan to clean up water and soil contamination at this industrial site that as recently as 2001, employed over 900 people. While the clean-up is scheduled to take place regardless of what happens with the authorization of the Millennium Bulk Terminal, coal exports are paying the way to repurpose this site to once again serve as an economic engine in the community.

Currently, the facility only employs 37 people –a fraction of the 2,650 the terminal would employ during construction and 300 hundred employed during operations thereafter. It’s time we get these jobs back.

These bright spots often get missed in the coverage of the coal export terminals.

Unfortunately, unemployed workers don’t enjoy the same bully-pulpit as elected officials using the coal export terminals as an instrument for reelection at the expense of workers and new job opportunities for our region.

Politicizing economic opportunities, like the coal export terminals, will have dangerous repercussions.  As I wrote last week — we’re already beginning to feel the consequences. Greenbriar, a major Portland employer, is cutting over 200 jobs as a result of the delays in the coal export terminals and railcar customer’s buying habits.

While employers bleed jobs, public money is being spent on efforts that threaten to slow the reclamation and renaissance of what is now an industrial blight. The self-serving and unnecessary political grandstanding of some elected officials is an affront to Oregon taxpayers and workers.

By |May 7th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Exports: A Lesson with Corn and Coal

If you follow the twisted logic of the eco-extremists who want to force us all back into the energy Stone Age, then corn exports could be the next target of their fake arguments.

Huh?

There are a group of people in the Pacific Northwest that distorts the facts to create fear and get the public all riled up when it comes to coal exports because they think all carbon based energy is destroying Mother Earth. They’ve employed these same tactics previously as noted in this story so why wouldn’t they do the same thing when it comes to exporting corn that could be made into ethanol, thereby reducing CO2 emissions? Don’t they argue that CO2 is the greatest threat to mankind?

Since mandated ethanol output must nearly triple within 9 years, where is all that corn to make ethanol going to come from? Likely, from reducing or eliminating corn exports, since 20% of annual US production is exported and corn production acreage is actually declining.

So how would they shut down corn exports? By making the same flawed arguments they make today against coal.

I mean, aren’t the arguments against coal the same that could be made against corn? Such as, increased diesel emissions since corn is transported for export by train (from longer distances than coal) producing even higher levels of diesel locomotive emissions. Or how about the unprecedented use of NEPA or HIA’s to limit or stop corn exports since the environmental and social costs of growing corn with its alleged pollution and negative health impacts are not considered today.

Similarly, complaints about the corn train traffic delays or corn dust effects (including loading facility explosions) are sure to mount if we continue this devastating practice?

Of course, by now […]

By |May 3rd, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Potential for Growth – In Happiness?

Earlier this week, Oregon Business published an article about “lots of upheaval in the Oregon business world this past week” focusing on SoloPower’s taxpayer funded failure and the Gunderson plant’s decision to lay off a quarter of its workforce because of the Department of Environmental Equality’s (DEQ) “decision to withhold permits for the Morrow Pacific coal export project.”

None of this is positive for Oregon’s economy which is lagging behind in nearly every economic measurement, including creating jobs. Add in the legislature’s proposed tax increases on business and it isn’t hard to see the future of Oregon business is not particularly bright.

While the state is seeking leadership on these key issues, Oregon’s Governor has gone on junket to the tiny country of Bhutan to attend an international meeting on Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness.”   What’s ironic about this is that our Governor could be helping increase Oregon’s “Gross Happiness” by helping to create a more vibrant economy by considering growing our export capabilities.

If Governor Kitzhaber is really interested in increasing Oregon’s happiness quotient, in addition to our GDP, he could simply instruct the DEQ to stop withholding the Morrow permit and create hundreds of immediate construction jobs, not to mention permanent, well-paying port jobs. Our state is craving some growth opportunities that Morrow can help provide.  Nothing creates happiness more than high paid jobs that truly benefit an economy.

 

 

By |April 25th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments

Welcome

My name is Jeff Kropf, and I’m a fifth generation Oregon farmer from Sublimity, Oregon and former Oregon State Legislator. Having been surrounded by Oregon agriculture and politics for most of my life, I can say with authority that the debate unfolding over proposed coal export terminals has played out too often before in the Northwest – to the detriment of our economy and the well-being of Oregon families. What should be a straightforward environmental review of the local impacts of these facilities, is being corrupted into a never ending bureaucratic attempt to stop construction unfairly, and without cause. These are the same types of attacks I witnessed decades ago leading to the timber industry decline, the apple industries battle over alar and countless other local and regional infrastructure and industrial projects opposed at tremendous cost to our economy.

Oregon, as many of you know, could use an economic boost. Our infrastructure, like railways and ports, is outdated, and our manufacturing sector has been depleted by the most recent economic downturn. The coal export terminals will provide a privately-funded boost that’s desperately needed. While the news is focused on coal, the benefits of that investment extend to all trade-related industries.

Our state’s farmers stand to benefit exponentially by increased export capabilities and by preserving rail and port use. Rail companies will shut down a rail line, if it’s not economically viable. This is a well-known fact in the agricultural community and an issue I experienced in my own legislative district. Look at the Port of Coos Bay, where lack of activity forced the Port to use public money to purchase the Port’s supporting rail spur in an effort to keep the port viable. Coal exports at that […]

By |April 20th, 2013|Blog|0 Comments