When you sign up for a career in public safety, you accept that there are risks involved in the job. Putting on a uniform was always a matter of pride for me, but it was also a daily reminder that I would gladly put myself in harm’s way to protect my fellow citizens, civil order and the law.
Public safety is my greatest passion and my life’s work. I spent three years as a policeman in the Army and almost three decades as an officer with the Richland Police Department – Hanford Patrol. I went on to spend the better part of two decades in the Washington Legislature until my fellow Benton County residents elected me to serve as Benton County Commissioner.
I have worked as as a law enforcement officer, fought to maintain public safety priorities in the Legislature and now serve my friends and neighbors as a Benton County commissioner. My background as a law enforcement officer makes me very much opposed to the idea of civil disorder for the sake of making a political point.
That is why I think it is important for me to express my concerns today. I could not stay on the sidelines after hearing that opponents of coal exports, led by environmentalist Bill McKibben, have been calling for “civil disobedience.”
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McKibben has been traveling from Vermont to the Northwest lately to talk about his opposition to coal exports. On one of his recent visits to Oregon, he went so far as to encourage opponents of coal exports to take the law into their own hands. McKibben is not from here, so our infamous “Northwest process” may seem a little on the long side, but I challenge him to recognize the value of dealing with contentious issues without law breaking or disorder.
I can say this with certainty — taking the law into your own hands is never the right approach to dealing with conflict.
This topic is important to discuss now as the state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County are beginning the environmental impact study on one of the three Northwest coal export projects — the Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview. Public meetings have been announced with one of the meetings in Pasco on Oct. 1. The others will be held Sept. 17 in Longview; Sept. 25 in Spokane; Oct. 9 at the Clark County Fairgrounds north of Vancouver and Oct. 17 in Tacoma. As we attend these meetings, let’s keep the peace.
As for the projects themselves, I am supportive. Our region needs a new path to growth and recovery. The projects, proposed for Boardman, Oreg., Longview and Bellingham, would create thousands of jobs and millions in tax dollars.
As an elected leader of a small local government, I cannot overemphasize the importance of private investment in our communities. In the case of coal exports, these investments will pave the way for other exports, including agriculture. That’s something we cannot ignore here in Southwest Washington.
I have also heard project opponents say that these export terminals will cause burdensome train delays, going so far as to imply the train traffic will hamper first responders. Having served in this capacity, I want people to know that first responders have been working with the railroads for a long time. Any increase in rail traffic will be well communicated — everyone will work to make sure it happens in a way that allows first responders to do their jobs.
The reality is that much of the opposition to the export terminals comes from people who are concerned about the increase in rail. In my book, an increase in rail is a good thing for the Northwest. More rail traffic means that goods are going out and trade is on the upswing. The Washington state economy is dependent on trade - four out of ten jobs are tied to trade – not a small piece of the pie. I think that is the reason a recent survey showed the projects have 2-1 support in the region, with 60 percent of those surveyed saying they support the proposed facilities.
I am excited for the possibility of more trade and jobs in Washington State. As a public servant, and a veteran I know the benefit of tax dollars resulting from private investment. It means safer communities, better care for veterans, investment in infrastructure, and money for cash strapped schools. I proudly support these projects.
Jerome Delvin is a Benton County Commissioner.