EPA decision could put Washington jobs at risk
The federal Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make a decision on the Greenhouse Gase Tailoring Rule, which could cost the state as many as 26,000 green jobs. Guest columnist Jeff Morris argues the rule should not be implemented.
Special to The Times
WITH 9.1 percent unemployment in Washington state, we need to do everything we can to support existing jobs and boost industries that will create new jobs.
However, a new rule by the Environmental Protection Agency — the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule — is expected to hurt between 11,000 and 26,000 green jobs and more than 130 renewable-energy projects. The Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule will regulate emissions from the production of renewable biomass power the same as emissions from the production of fossil-fuel power, removing incentives for development and use of biomass, causing needed "green-collar" jobs to disappear and investment in new technologies to dry up.
A new study released by Brooks Mendell of Forisk Consulting, one of the nation's leading forestry researchers, shows the economic impact of the Greenhouse Gas Tailoring Rule on our nation's economy. According to his findings, we'll not only lose the jobs and renewable-energy projects, but we'll also lose $18 billion in capital investment in biomass and other forestry-related industries. Considering that Washington state has more than 10 million acres of private forests — which account for 110,000 jobs statewide — we need to be supporting, not stalling, investment in forestry-related industries and jobs if we want to combat our high unemployment.
Mendell isn't the only academic who has expressed concerns with the EPA's targeting of biomass power — he just has the numbers to prove it now. This past summer, 10 Washington state scientists joined more than 90 colleagues from around the nation to send a letter to Congress concerned with the implications of the little-known (and scientifically inaccurate) plan to declassify biomass as a renewable power source.
"The EPA Tailoring Rule ... is not consistent with good science and, if not corrected, could stop the development of new emission-reducing biomass energy facilities," they wrote. "This is counter to our country's renewable energy and climate mitigation goals."
The academics aren't alone. Gov. Chris Gregoire and U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are just a few of the elected officials across the country who have publicly expressed concerns with the impact of the Tailoring Rule and asked the EPA to reverse its treatment of biomass power in it.
In addition to the economic concerns, Gregoire wrote the White House to ask for reconsideration of the rule because it would also inadvertently make it more difficult to prevent devastating wildfires in the West, given that biomass production allows forests to be thinned and properly maintained.
To date, the EPA has done nothing to amend the Tailoring Rule's treatment of biomass. If Mendell's predictions hold true, the Tailoring Rule could prove to be a job- and innovation-killing embarrassment for the administration, especially since President Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have expressly supported the development of renewable biofuels to decrease our use of carbon-intensive fossil fuels. The Tailoring Rule would likely have the exact opposite effect, making it nearly impossible for timber-rich areas like the Pacific Northwest to develop biomass and meet any federal or state renewable-energy targets.
According to the study, the EPA decision, expected any day, could literally be life altering for some Washingtonians — which explains why dozens of state groups, ranging from the Washington State Labor Council to the Washington State Association of Counties, have joined our elected officials and academics in asking the EPA to amend the treatment of biomass.
Let's hope the EPA and others in Washington listen to the facts. If not, expect our already high unemployment rate to climb a little higher — and take opportunities for renewable energy and innovation with it.State Rep. Jeff Morris is a Democrat from Mount Vernon. He also chairs the National Conference of State Legislatures Environment Committee.