OLYMPIA – Building new coal terminals near Bellingham and Longview will have major economic benefits for the entire state, a new study conducted for the Washington Farm Bureau suggests.
“All Washington exporters stand to benefit,” John Stuhmiller, Farm Bureau director, said. More trains and bigger terminals will help Northwest farmers, who export most of their wheat and some of their other crops.
“We have to trade, we have to import,” state Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said at the news conference to announce the report.
But opponents of the terminals and the increase in coal trains that would feed them say there are negative impacts, too, that the state should study before the Gateway Pacific and Millennium terminals are approved. That would include the cost of upgrading rail crossings to handle the increased traffic and delays for more and longer trains where communities are divided by tracks.
“There are huge economic impacts,” said state Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. “You have to look at the whole picture, both sides of the coin.”
The study, by professor Steven Globerman of Western Washington University’s College of Business and Finance, contends the debate over the coal terminals should consider increases in income for people outside of Bellingham and Longview as train traffic expands to serve the ports. Transportation costs should drop, and with it the costs of the goods shipped and prices to consumers.
Trade with Asian countries would expand, offering the state “a unique opportunity to become economically wealthier by intensifying its long-standing competitive advantage as a gateway to trade,” Globerman wrote. He couldn’t quantify the growth, but believes previous studies have underestimated the total economic benefits.
Hard numbers is what the state should seek, of both economic pluses and minuses, in a comprehensive analysis of the proposed coal ports, Carlyle said. Legislative proposals to require such an analysis have not yet been successful but “we’re not letting it go.”