In Focus: Agricultural trade certainty needed for future

February 15, 2014 

Newly mandated changes to Washington’s regulatory-review process are raising serious concerns for the agricultural community of the Evergreen State. For the first time, state regulations governing environmental impact statements will take into consideration the global lifecycle effects of products made or transported through Washington. These controversial changes to the review of trade-related projects will have damaging long-term consequences to Washington’s economy and reputation, along with potentially devastating results for our farmers and our entire farming industry. Washington Farm Bureau is dedicated to the best interests of our farming community, which includes protecting our natural resources and enhancing ecological security. This equals economic security for our state — security that these unprecedented regulatory changes threaten to destabilize. As the second-largest industry in the state, Washington’s 2012 agricultural production reached$9.89 billion. A key catalyst to this industry’s success is the reliable transportation and trade of commodities nationally and internationally. Last year, $16.5 billion in agricultural products were transported and exported through port terminals on the Northwest coast. State officials claim this global-review process is nothing new, but that claim is inaccurate. The State Environmental Protection Act, or SEPA, was created to limit unpredictability and to provide clear mitigation requirements for the development of community projects. Altering the state’s long-standing regulatory review process by adding a new global outlook to the EIS scope increases uncertainty for businesses and communities and threatens major trade investments. Predictability is the bedrock of private investment and a keystone for the preservation and expansion of our state’s transportation infrastructure. Yet this expanded review process has already led to possible legal action by neighboring states, a bipartisan letter of concern to Congress, and a warning from the National Association of Manufacturers that Washington may be undermining U.S. trade policy and violating WTO rules. Maintaining a strong, vibrant agricultural industry requires our state regulatory structure to create a viable path forward for trade infrastructure, not saddle it with ambiguity and possible legal action. Additionally, the expanded review appears to be selective and is already being used to attack projects ranging from an oil terminal plan to Seattle’s master plan for new bike lanes. Just last week, when attempting to explain the new regulatory process to a state Senate panel, Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said that future reviews “will depend on the specific facts” of each project applying for permits. With no standard guideline for what qualifies projects for expanded review, state regulators in effect have appointed themselves final arbiters of “winners and losers.” Regulatory schemes should be about certainty, predictability and fairness. SEPA is an important process. Projects and ventures in any state need to be studied and mitigated, but within a reasonable geographic area and under a predictable timeline. Maintaining and protecting our ability to export commodities is critical to the future well-being of our agriculture community and Washington’s trade economy as a whole. Efforts should be focused on ensuring Washington remains a trade leader through private expansion, relying on the environmentally rigorous EIS review system we have used — with great success — for decades. John Stuhlmiller is CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau.

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