Having spent harvest time in a farm truck, I know firsthand the importance of transportation to agriculture. Days of moving onions from the field to storage sheds made clear the importance of meeting agriculture’s infrastructure needs so our products can reach the market. Harvest time means long days hauling produce over bad roads, lines of trucks at crowded delivery sites and seemingly endless delays.
As residents of one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, people in Washington are especially dependent on affordable, reliable and efficient transportation infrastructure to get our products to a world market. Trucking, barges, seaports and airports are all important, but when it comes to moving bulk goods, nothing can replace rail.
Often considered outdated, Washington farmers would not have a strong connection to global markets without railroads. More than 36 percent of freight moved across Washington’s rail system is farm product, making it the top commodity shipped by rail.
Fast, efficient rail service means Washington’s finest produce gets to consumers around the world at peak freshness. The complexity required to deliver food to our tables goes unrecognized by most consumers. Yet bureaucrats unfamiliar with this complex system are encouraging political opposition and excessive regulation that delays shipments and creates inefficiency.
Farmers worry because regulators are threatening to block infrastructure that is needed by businesses and Washington’s economy. For example, officials at the Department of Ecology have recommended unprecedented oversight in their environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal, a modern high-volume export facility planned in Longview. One of the main beneficiaries of the new terminal will be Washington farmers and our entire economy.
Regulators at Ecology recommended an unprecedented number of hurdles before the Millennium project. Ecology decided Millennium must be responsible for a portion of the emissions generated from the entire lifecycle of commodities shipped through the port.
For example, Millennium would be responsible for emissions generated by coal shipped to China to meet an existing demand. No other industry must provide this unwarranted responsibility over their commodities after leaving their control. Many have noted the same standard does not apply to Boeing when it sells a jet.
Agriculture needs facilities like Millennium in Washington state to increase our overall shipping capacity. This is especially true at a time when agriculture is still recovering from an estimated $769 million loss from the 2015 port labor slowdown.
Agriculture would benefit as Washington’s rail infrastructure expands to accommodate increased capacity at Millennium. Rail representatives have already confirmed they will expand to meet a growing demand.
Ecology’s completely new regulatory concept would hinder the ability of infrastructure to develop and make it impossible for Millennium to operate. And, these restrictions will not prevent another country from providing that same coal to China.
Ecology’s draft EIS is proposed by unelected officials and is based on policy never debated or voted on in Olympia. Put simply, Ecology’s recommendations are not fair to farmers or to the people of our state. The comment period for Ecology’s EIS closed on June 13, and the final EIS is expected mid-2017.
The Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has drafted its own EIS. Following lawful methods of regulatory authority, the Corps split from Ecology in its recommendations regarding Millennium. The Corps does not include the lifecycle requirement in their draft EIS.
Federal law requires a public comment period. The Corps is accepting the public’s views on its EIS for the Millennium Bulk Terminal until Nov. 29.
Although the focus is on coal exports, agriculture and the people of Washington would pay the price for regulatory requirements that wander far from a reasonable standard and the democratic processes. The jobs, infrastructure, and market growth that would be forfeited by putting Ecology’s stringent demands on Millennium would be a huge blow to our state and the rail infrastructure that makes agricultural trade possible.
Madi Clark is the agriculture policy research director for Washington Policy Center.
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