Published March 3, 2020
The function of local governments, generally speaking, is to help ensure that communities run smoothly and they are responsible for delivering the infrastructure needed to ensure that its residents have the opportunity lead a good life – not just today, but into the future as well.
For Whatcom County, one of the essential pillars of the bright future we all seek for ourselves and our families is at Cherry Point – a site that supports jobs, raises revenue, and creates opportunity at a larger scale than any other in the area. The good news is that Cherry Point already has all it needs to continue to create those opportunities well into the future. The bad news is that the Whatcom County Council is threatening regulatory changes that put that great future very much in doubt.
Cherry Point means a great deal to the people of Whatcom County. Around 10,000 Whatcom County jobs run through the companies at Cherry Point. Our coffers are bolstered by the $200 million in tax revenue generated by these companies [Link to Opportunity Washington article, “Exploring the Impacts of Cherry Point on Whatcom County“] – including tens of millions for schools and other public services. But despite this footprint, Cherry Point is in the County Council’s crosshairs.
The County Council is considering changes to county’s Comprehensive Plan that, if enacted, would be among the most radical and sweeping regulatory revisions in decades. And while the Council may seek to portray their efforts as narrowly targeted and impacting only the refineries at Cherry Point, the fact of the matter is that this proposal’s impact would be felt far beyond one critical sector. After all, it’s simply not possible to punitively hammer one key job creator without causing serious peripheral damage across multiple local industries.
My experience working for operators at Cherry Point who have made substantial investments in this community, has taught me that an uncertain regulatory environment causes unintended ripple effects with negative impacts. Take for example, the recent cancellation of a huge renewable diesel project at Cherry Point that, while maybe not a direct result of the proposed Cherry Point amendments, they absolutely add to the general regulatory uncertainty that has permeated Whatcom County over the last few years.
When a lengthy permit review process with a questionable outcome of approval is combined with a near certainty of a lengthy appeal process, no additional investment makes financial sense. For the refineries, this is a de facto ban on all future investment.
The new plan will make it next to impossible for these companies – which employ thousands – to keep up with their competitors outside Whatcom County who don’t have to bear the burden of such radical requirements. Cherry Point operators would have no reasonable expectation to receive permit approvals of permit applications even for improved environmental technologies that could make operations more efficient or competitively sustainable, and therefore there will be no future investments that lead to more jobs and higher tax revenues. And against this backdrop, the notion of any new energy companies throwing their hat in Whatcom County’s ring is laughable. The new regulations would also apply to the renewable energy operations present at Cherry Point. They, too, would face rising costs, restricted investment, and non-existent growth and expansion if the revised plan moves forward. Hardly the most effective way to transition to a cleaner energy future.
Our refineries are among the most advanced and efficient in the world. They supply fuels for the cars, ships, and planes that all of us across the region use every day. And if these refineries are forced out of business by an overzealous County Council, those cars, ships, and planes won’t stop running. Rather, they’ll get their fuel from other sources – transporting it over longer distances from facilities whose environmental controls can’t match those present at Cherry Point, some fuels even coming straight back to Whatcom County. The net outcome, plainly, is more emissions and at higher energy prices.
And if increased carbon emissions aren’t enough to demonstrate the environmental folly of this proposal, consider this:
This issue is about more than energy: It’s about local government hanging the proverbial “Not Open for Business” sign on our front door. It’s about signaling to would-be investors from near and far that Whatcom County is an uncertain place to invest – a place where jobs and opportunity take a back seat to politics. That’s not the signal we want from the officials we select to represent us, and it’s not the path to the future we deserve.
Changes of this magnitude shouldn’t be made with such urgency. Whatcom County should step away from this aggressive proposal and to lead the way to the future we deserve.
If the Whatcom County Council does not change its course as it relates to its proposed Cherry Point regulations, Whatcom will lose jobs and tax revenue and Cherry Point will simply end up “Closed for Business.”
Marine and Safety Operations Adviser to Petrogas
Energy Industry Representative on the Whatcom County Business and Commerce Advisory Committee
This was provided by a community member. Any opinions are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the publisher of My Ferndale News nor its advertisers or supporters. Information and claims contained within have not been verified.
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