OLYMPIA – As the Department of Ecology prepares for additional environmental review for the proposed Kalama Manufacturing & Marine Export Facility, a bipartisan group of legislators organized by Sen. Dean Takko (D-Longview) sent the following letter to Gov. Jay Inslee urging immediate efforts to produce an outcome that meets the community’s environmental and economic needs:

Dear Governor Jay Inslee,

We are writing to request clarification and immediate efforts regarding a series of recent departmental and executive actions impacting the Northwest Innovation Works, Kalama Manufacturing & Marine Export Facility. These actions include the Department of Ecology’s determination requiring a Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Second SEIS), your Directive of the Governor 19-18 regarding Environmental Assessment of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, and a $600,000 appropriation request in your proposed 2020 Supplemental Budget to perform the second SEIS.[1]

A collaborative and transparent permitting process is key to attracting and retaining family wage jobs in rural communities while promoting high environmental standards. After nearly six years of permitting and associated SEPA process, subjecting the Kalama project to a replacement round of unspecified environmental review is both unnecessary and heavy with implications for the economic development interests of the state.

While meaningful progress has been made, Cowlitz County is one of several counties that continues to struggle with higher unemployment, lower wages, and lower labor participation rates than the statewide average. The Kalama project would provide a needed boost to its local economy, creating one thousand construction jobs and two hundred permanent jobs. And it is setting new standards for environmental sustainability, including 100% GHG neutral operations regionally with significant reductions globally.

We are motivated to support a process of environmental review that is comprehensive, fair, and without unreasonable delay. We are concerned that the latest round of announcements has diminished the confidence of stakeholders that the motive of the Department is substantive. Ecology dismissed a detailed response from Cowlitz County to its questions and determined that a Second SEIS was to be required without clarifying which, if any, of their questions remained unanswered nor why it was necessary to abandon a dialogue and pursue its own multi-year environmental review process.

Rather than replicate an entire SEIS, the Department should clarify which questions, if any, remain and undertake further limited review and identify the most efficient means to remedy any concerns that arise. In the Department’s October 9, 2019 request for more information from Cowlitz County, the Department found it reasonable to request answers to its questions within 30 days. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that the department can fulfill its inquiry on a similar timetable through continued cooperative efforts within the current longstanding process rather than through this unnecessary and redundant effort at considerable cost to the state.

We are urging regulators to work together in a constructive manner to produce an outcome that meets the state’s environmental oversight and economic development needs. However, starting over with a new SEIS that will needlessly cost the taxpayers $600,000 and take months or years to complete is unreasonable and unacceptable. At this time, we believe that it is prudent for Ecology to articulate in very specific terms the concerns it has with the current SEIS and to work with Cowlitz County and local SEPA responsible officials to come back to the table and resolve this unnecessary impasse.

In this context, we are also requesting clarification of the motivating factors and intent of Directive 19-18, and the underlying authorities being claimed to support the development of new rules. We do not believe this Directive, which delays the implementation of rules until 2021, should be used to justify further delay of the Kalama project SEIS by the Department and we seek assurances this is not the case.

Rebuilding stakeholder confidence in Ecology’s role in the regulatory oversight of the Kalama project starts with a renewed commitment to enhancing the communication between the Department of Ecology, Cowlitz County, and the Port of Kalama, with the continued cooperation and active efforts of Northwest Innovation Works. It is our expectation that the Department engage meaningfully to resolve remaining questions and reach a timely permitting decision within an already robust and extensive process.

In numerous conversations, both public and private, you have expressed your care and concern for rural communities. Together, let’s send the message that Washington can set exemplary environmental standards and stay open for business.

Sincerely,

Senator Dean Takko

Senator John Braun

Senator Lynda Wilson

Senator Ann Rivers

Representative Brian Blake

Representative Jim Walsh

Representative Orcutt

Representative Mike Chapman

CC

Senator Christine Rolfes, Chair, Senate Ways and Means

Senator David Frockt, Vice Chair, Senate Ways and Means

Representative Timm Ormsby, Chair, House Appropriations

Representative June Robinson, Vice Chair, House Appropriations

[1] Ecology SEPA Analysis (Budget summary, Page 167, Item 18): https://ofm.wa.gov/sites/default/files/public/budget/statebudget/20supp/2020SuppRecSumsCLvNL.pdf