Trade, carbon and jobs: The policy intersection and why it matters

An op-ed in The News Tribune by Rick Hicks and Lee Newgent makes the case for expanding freight terminals Hicks and Newgent are, respectively, president of Teamsters Joint Council 28 and executive secretary of the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council, AFL-CIO. They write, 

The governor, the executives of King and Pierce County, the Seattle City Council, some members of the Tacoma City Council and others – including some of our union brothers and sisters – should seriously rethink their opposition to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Bellingham and the Millennium Bulk Terminal and Vancouver Energy export terminals in Vancouver.

…The policymakers above have started down a dangerous path by trying to cherry-pick commodities based on carbon content. Our geography and natural deep-water ports bolster our position as a trade hub – but business, investment and jobs will go north or south if we have policies that actively discourage infrastructure investment based solely on the commodity villain of the day.

The op-ed argues that the expanded terminals would provide thousands of family-wage jobs during and after construction, draw in about $1.5 billion in private investment, and generate an estimated $25 billion in annual tax revenues. The piece is well worth consideration.
And it ties in neatly with a Puget Sound Business Journal commentary by Vicki Baxter, CEO of the Renton Chamber of Commerce and Andrea Keikkala, the CEO of the Kent Chamber of Commerce. The two chamber executives note Washington’s extraordinary success in reducing carbon emissions..

Washington employers, in partnership with their employees, have reduced carbon emissions through efficiency and new technology. Commuters have chosen transit, carpools and low-emission vehicles. Because of our hydropower, our electricity generation emits nearly the lowest amount of carbon in the country.

And they express concern that proposed new regulation may jeopardize economic growth while doing little to improve environmental quality. Referring to one cap-and-trade proposal, they write,

The governor’s own economists confirmed that his plan would increase the price of a gallon of gas by as much as 41 cents above projections over time and labeled it “regressive” because of its disproportionate impact on fixed-income households.

An independent analysis of the plan concluded that, if it were implemented, Washington would have an average of 56,000 fewer jobs each year than under current projections.

In our research report, Opportunity Washington pointed out, 

Many state-level regulations reflect Washingtonians’ commitment to protecting human health and the natural environment. However, the costs of regulatory compliance have a direct impact on investment and job creation.


In terms of regulatory content, Washington regulations routinely exceed the minimums required by federal law. For example, the state chose to require a global environmental impact statement, rather than a project-specific analysis, for proposed coal export facilities in 2014. Policies to address climate change and water quality are frequently cited by employers as areas of uncertainty that can affect long-range planning. ..While regulations ultimately reflect Washingtonians’ policy preferences, they should be regularly reviewed to see if, for example, the benefits justify the added costs of compliance.

The chamber executives concluded their commentary saying,

We support the governor’s goal of reducing carbon emissions, but we differ on the solution. Thanks to the leadership of Washington families, employers, farmers and government, we’re making great progress through collaborative policies that invite each of us to act on our environmental values.

Washington’s environmental ethic contributes to the state’s celebrated quality of life. Collaboration and a clear determination that environmental benefits justify the costs of regulation offer a way to assure a win for both the economy and the environment.