Gov. Jay Inslee is calling for patience on proposals for crude oil shipments on Grays Harbor, saying the state will let the permitting process run its course.
During a wide-ranging interview this week with The Daily World’s Editorial Board, Inslee says he knows the issue has become a contentious one locally. He said he hasn’t taken a position on the oil shipments, but sees the proposals a little differently than earlier plans to ship coal from the state.
Imperium Renewables and Westway Terminals are asking permission to add tanks on Port of Grays Harbor property to store crude oil and other liquids. A third proposal from U.S. Development Group LLC is also on the table. That company has been granted a lease option for a site at Terminal 3 in Hoquiam near Bowerman Basin.
Coal shipments are most likely headed for foreign countries on the Pacific Rim, while the crude oil would go to domestic refineries, Inslee pointed out.
“I do think there’s a distinction between exporting to other countries, particularly for a large expansion of major industrial changes now going on in Asia for coal, and transportation infrastructure for domestic use,” the governor said. “I look at those a little differently.
“The public is going to have a say on this and there’s going to be a lot of input from people and we’re going to have a permit process to give people a chance for input.”
Asked whether the projects should be looked at cumulatively, as coal projects have been elsewhere in the state, Inslee replied, “I haven’t made any decisions yea or nay on this. My view is we ought to follow the law in the permitting process. I haven’t taken any position pro or con. …
“I can tell you, since we have talked about this, that I am very committed to our state taking a leading role in new technologies to reduce our demands for oil in the transportation sector,” Inslee said. “I think this is absolutely necessary for the long run. And we have some really good economic opportunities in our state to do that. … We may be exporting carbon fiber out of the Port of Grays Harbor someday around the world. That’s a possibility. Our future needs to not just be oil. We need to look at lithium ion batteries. We need to look at carbon fiber bodies. We need to look at new smart grid technology so you can plug your electric car in your garage. That is the very bright future for our state and I have proposed to put a research center at the University of Washington to advance these things.”
Inslee said he wanted to be here to witness the second cycle of pontoons leaving the Harbor, but that would have meant being here at midnight due to the tides.
“I was going to be there but we could not find a way through governmental proclamation to change when high tide was,” Inslee said with a grin. “We couldn’t swing it.”
Inslee said he has “every reason to be confident” that changes the state Department of Transportation has made in conjunction with contractor Kiewit-General will help solve the problem of cracking and spalling in the pontoons. Faulty designs recently led to the state DOT’s chief bridge engineer losing his job.
Inslee also didn’t re-appoint then-DOT head Paula Hammond to her post.
Asked if the design mistakes led to Hammond not being re-appointed, Inslee replied, “I picked a DOT chief because her vision was very close to mine and that was the basis of my decision.”
The pontoons are slated to continue being built at the Aberdeen casting basin well into 2015. After that, however, there’s still a question of what will happen to the site.
“It’s a huge asset and a very unique asset and we should explore every possible alternative and we should do it in a timely fashion,” Inslee said. “But, I’m not going to be shocked when you build a one-off facility like this to fit the particular needs of this construction project that we won’t find something to go in there on day one. … You have to have patience to develop ideas.”
Inslee says he’s become impressed with the leadership of the Chehalis Basin Flood Authority and is happy they’re on his team to continue looking into flooding issues on the Chehalis. Inslee’s budget, along with proposed capital budgets in the House and Senate, would fully fund the Flood Authority for another two years and provide up to $28 million for flood-related projects and studies.
“They’re heading in the right direction and there’s a good degree of consensus, although not unanimity, and they’re not yet finished this year and I think there’s a good sign,” Inslee said.
He says he hasn’t “given any yea or nay stamp of approval” for the potential earthen dam on the headwaters of the Chehalis River.
“I think it’s appropriate to continue studying these things and look at the hydrology and answer these questions. I think a dam, for obvious reasons, you need people to think twice about it. We’ve been removing obstacles to fish passage, so it’s not exactly intuitive that you would build another one, and think it can actually improve fish habitat and passage,” Inslee said. “All of us will need to take a reasoned, mature second look at some of these things.”
Inslee said he’s hoping budget leaders make a lot of progress before the Legislature reconvenes on May 13.
Aiming his comments at the Senate budget, Inslee said any budget that doesn’t eliminate tax breaks and extend existing taxes on professionals is unacceptable because it means cutting more education programs.
“We should look at our paramount duty, which is to our kids, not to tax breaks,” Inslee said. “We should be worshiping at the alter of good education and good schools, not at some of these loopholes that have existed for a long time and never really been examined. …
“It’s a lot smarter to close a loophole for the oil and gas industry than reduce childcare for kids and reduce the living assistance for these senior citizens. That’s the question before us. We can’t keep doing across-the-board cuts. We have state parks that are in shambles right now and we don’t know if we have to close them or what we’re going to do. But those basic services are just no longer available. We have scandals in our Children’s Protective Services, these kids who are getting abused and killed by their parents or whoever has done this to them and, in part, because we have a case load that is twice the accepted legal number. We have to say ‘nada mas.’ We can’t go down that road anymore.”
Inslee said that he agrees that there should be more efficiencies in government, “But we can’t build a budget on wishes, hopes and dreams.”
Inslee said he’s also looking at a potential gas tax increase to fund the new bridge over the Columbia River at Vancouver and other mega-projects.
“Jobs in Grays Harbor are dependent on the bridge across the Columbia River,” Inslee said. “They’re dependent on reducing congestion on the I-5 corridor north of here. We need jobs here and we need to keep our kids from moving up the road. Having a transportation infrastructure up and down the I-5 corridor is important for small towns like those on the Harbor. We always have to remind ourselves that our income tax is at zero, so you’ll find a lot of our other taxes are higher than other states because we have the lowest income tax rate in the solar system, which is zero.”