Sheldon: Vancouver terminal rejection part of a pattern of denials, and a ‘war on Washington’

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.

OLYMPIA – A decision this week by a state-government agency to turn thumbs-down on a Vancouver oil terminal demonstrates a bias by the Inslee Administration against major industrial projects outside the central Puget Sound area.

So says state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, one of the last remaining Democrats in the Legislature who represents a rural district.

“I feel sorry for the people who would have gotten good, high-paying jobs — for the unionized workers and everyone else who would have benefitted,” he said. “The Inslee Administration has become a killing field for anything the Seattle environmental crowd opposes, and people who live anywhere else are the ones who suffer.”

The unanimous vote Tuesday by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council recommends the state reject a $210 million shipping terminal proposed by Vancouver Energy. The council is composed largely of representatives of agencies controlled by the governor. Though the final decision rests with the governor, the council’s vote gives Inslee cover to say no, Sheldon said.

It is the latest in a pattern of denials that has killed major new projects involving the shipment of fossil fuels that have come before Inslee and the agencies he controls. In some cases, the rejections have required state agencies to engage in gymnastics. To deny a permit for the Millennium bulk-terminal project at the Port of Longview this fall, state regulators had to go far beyond the usual analysis of site-specific environmental impacts. They concluded that any shipment of coal from the port would increase worldwide carbon emissions – ignoring the fact that foreign purchasers can turn to Canadian ports, or to dirtier-burning coal from other nations. Additional objections cited by the Department of Ecology – more rail and ship traffic, and greenhouse gases emitted during construction – are general in nature and might be used to deny permits to any project.

Other denials include smaller-scale industrial projects along the coast and the Columbia River.

“Whatever anyone thinks about any particular project, it’s time we recognize the pattern,” Sheldon said. “The moment the environmental groups raise an objection, the Inslee Administration will look long and hard for any reason to say no, even if it has to stretch from here to Timbuktu to do it. Vancouver Energy spent four years working to get that permit, and if the Inslee Administration is just going to say no to everything, any employer interested in bringing jobs to the state will have to wonder if there will be a fair hearing.

“What we are seeing is an attempt by urban special interest groups to realign our state. Instead of seeing us as part of the Pacific Northwest, sharing our interests with Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Alaska, they are drawing a big blue line around a West Coast nature preserve where cities like L.A., San Francisco, Portland and Seattle lord it over everyone else.

“I can’t blame labor unions for being furious with Inslee. This is part of a bigger problem affecting every one of us who live outside the central Puget Sound area. The Inslee Administration is writing new rules that will make our lives harder – from air regulations that will drive up the price of gas and electricity, to water regulations requiring perfection that can’t be measured by science. The Supreme Court’s Hirst decision makes it all but impossible to drill small household wells, which are critical to rural areas like mine, even though there is no evidence they cause a problem. Yet my urban colleagues in the Legislature stand in the way of a proper fix because they can’t see how this hurts the rest of us.

“In a session where urban interests hope to dominate the Legislature, this insensitivity to the rest of the state poses a real danger. Let’s call it what it is – a war on Washington – and declare that this has to stop.”