Nearly 50 years ago, Washington’s Legislature recognized the need for timely, thorough, and fact-based review of large energy facilities in our state.
Lawmakers felt that eliminating emotion from the permitting process would deliver better outcomes: stronger environmental protections, safer facilities, and adequate energy supplies for Washington citizens, businesses, and public services. This led to the creation of the state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee (EFSEC).
For more than three-and-a-half years, EFSEC has been reviewing Vancouver Energy’s proposal to build an oil terminal on industrial land at the Port of Vancouver. Project proponents say the facility will generate $2 billion in economic value, create hundreds of jobs on-site and hundreds more in the surrounding community, and improve American independence from foreign oil sources. These benefits will be felt around the state, including here in the Tri-Cities.
Along the way, untold reams of project plans, data and analysis have been studied. This thorough evaluation has led to a project plan that’s significantly different than originally conceived.
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Most importantly, project sponsors Tesoro and Savage have put their money where the mouths are when it comes to safety. They propose linking terminal product volumes to their safety results — not just on-site, but for their entire supply chain.
That unprecedented arrangement demonstrates how serious they are about safety. But it’s not the first step they’ve taken to protect the environment and the community. They’d already announced plans to provide tug escorts for all loaded vessels leaving the terminal and traveling on the Columbia River — a requirement not done for other vessels transiting the Columbia today.
They also will require that all rail cars coming to the terminal meet or exceed the latest U.S. Department of Transportation standards. These cars feature thicker steel, heatshields, and valve protection to reduce the risk of explosion or fire in an incident. This requirement is more stringent than federal regulations, which allow for continued use of older-style cars until they’re phased out.
Additionally, questions raised by EFSEC members have prompted Vancouver Energy to propose other safety measures, including:
▪ Fuel Washington’s economy by committing to supply Washington state refiners first;
▪ Additional protections on the Columbia whenever vessels are being loaded at the terminal;
▪ Sponsoring additional emergency response training exercises;
▪ Providing additional spill response equipment along the Columbia to improve response if an incident does occur.
In short, an already a good proposal is even better today. Vancouver Energy has responded to legitimate concerns with constructive proposals to enhance the safety of their project.
EFSEC has done its job thoroughly and professionally so far. But it needs to complete its assignment in a timely manner. Washington’s economy will be that much stronger if we can create a positive investment climate for major infrastructure projects. That means more timely review and decisions, and less uncertainty and delay.
As an economic development organization, our Pasco Chamber recognizes the importance of an improved regulatory review and approval process to attract private investments. Improving the current process will have statewide benefits, and it’s entirely possible that the next major facility to fall within EFSEC’s purview could be right here.
In the meantime, it’s already been a long and expensive haul for Vancouver Energy. If EFSEC sticks to the facts and weighs the evidence impartially, the only recommendation that can be made is approval.
Derek Brownson is the 2016-17 Pasco Chamber of Commerce president and vice-president AG/Commercial Loan officer with Community First Bank. Colin Hastings has been the executive director for the Pasco Chamber of Commerce since 2011. Prior to that, he owned and operated small businesses in the Tri-City area.