By John Stark
A Washington State Senate bill calling for expedited processing of permits for–among other things–”basic commodity transportation” is getting a lot of attention from opponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier proposed for Cherry Point.
The bill, SB 5805, was introduced Feb. 15, 2013 and passed along to the Rules Committee after a perfunctory Feb. 21 hearing in the Trade and Economic Committee. The bill comes up at 30:24 in the TVW video. Committee members make passing reference to coal projects and constituent concerns about it, but there is no definitive discussion of whether the bill would have any impact on those projects.
The bill modifies language in existing law for expediting the permit process in ways that would seem to apply to Gateway Pacific–especially the insertion of new language that would make “basic commodity transportation” facilities eligible for the fast-track.
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-44th, is a co-sponsor of 5805. Hobbs told me that 5805 has been introduced in previous sessions as part of an effort to get approval for a “pit to pier” gravel shipping terminal in Jefferson County that has beern simmering for many years. Here is some info on that project on the Jefferson County website; here is a critical view of it from a citizens’ organization, the Hood Canal Coalition. (Nobody mentioned this project during the committee hearing, unless I missed it.)
“Coal was not in mind when this bill was drafted,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs endorsed the Gateway Pacific proposal before his 2012 race for a 1st District House seat, in which he garnered 7 percent of the vote in the primary. He said he didn’t think SB 5805 would have any effect on Gateway Pacific.
Josh Swanson, a lobbyist for the International Union of Operating Engineers, also supports both 5805 and Gateway Pacific. Like Hobbs, he said the two are not related; 5805 is about gravel shipments in Jefferson County, and backers of the Jefferson County project have been trying to get this legislation passed for many years.
Swanson said he wasn’t sure if 5805 could also benefit Gateway Pacific if it becomes law, and he understands why Gateway Pacific opponents are worried that it might.
“I certainly think the argument could be made,” Swanson said. “I understand that.”
Meanwhile, Gateway Pacific opponents are sounding the alarm on Facebook, urging people to contact legislators to voice their opposition to 5805.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, responded with a Facebook post of his own:
“Thanks to each of you who have written to me here on FB and through my office regarding Senate Bill 5805 that could allow permit streamlining of large scale projects such as the Coal Export Facility at Cherry Point or the Pit to Pier project.
“Know that I am strongly opposed to the bill and am helping lead the opposition here in the Senate. Make no mistake… This is a bad bill and each of us needs to do anything in our power to make sure that it never gets to the Governor’s desk.
“I will continue to work tirelessly to oppose this bill.”
I have contacted Ranker seeking additional comment.
UPDATE: Mike Ennis, government affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, also said that Gateway Pacific was not on the minds of those who drafted 5805, and he scoffed at the notion that it might benefit the coal terminal.
“I think it’s just scare tactics by the enviros,” Ennis said.
But when he was asked if Gateway Pacific could benefit from the bill if it becomes law, Ennis stopped short of a flat denial.
“I don’t think they could, but that’s as far as I’ll go,” Ennis said.
The Association of Washington Business is also on record in support of Gateway Pacific.