by Sandy Robson
On September 13, 2014, about seven weeks before the November 2014 Whatcom County elections, KGMI’s Saturday Morning Live radio show host Kris Halterman interviewed Brad Owens, Co-Chair of the Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA), which was created in 2011 specifically to promote the Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT) project. The topic of the interview was Cherry Point industries. Owens told Halterman that NWJA’s focus has changed from focusing on the GPT project, to the Cherry Point industrial area, as Owens claimed: “In the past few months we have come to know that there’s a very organized, what I would view as an attack on our job base at Cherry Point.”
Halterman, agreeing with Owens, said, “I hear it, I see it. For those of us who are more tuned in to what’s going on environmentally and politically here locally—it’s out there every day you go to a county council meeting. . .” No evidence was offered to back up their claims. Halterman also told listeners that there were groups “pouring millions of dollars into Washington state and if not millions of dollars, at least multi hundreds of thousands of dollars into Whatcom County elections to get people elected to facilitate this deindustrialization that’s going on. . .the effort, I should say.”
Whatcom Business Alliance (formed after PIT permit application submitted) commissions Cherry Point employment report
Meanwhile, six weeks after the radio show, a NW Business Expo and Conference was held on October 23, 2014, and a report was presented there by Dr. Hart Hodges entitled, “Employment At Cherry Point,” regarding the economic impact from the businesses in the Cherry Point industrial area. Hodges is the Director of the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) at Western Washington University where he also is an Associate Professor. Joining Hodges as co-author of the report was University of Washington professor Dr. William Byers.
The NW Expo and Conference was organized by the Whatcom Business Alliance (WBA), a business support and advocacy member group. WBA’s board of directors commissioned the CEBR to prepare the Cherry Point employment report.
The WBA was founded and formed by former Whatcom County Council member Tony Larson in April 2012, right after SSA Marine/Pacific International Terminals (PIT) had submitted its permit application to Whatcom County on March 19, 2012. The new Shoreline permit was needed by SSA Marine/PIT for its proposed GPT project. SSA Marine’s subsidiary, PIT, is the company wanting to build and operate GPT, which if built, plans to handle, store, and export 48 million metric tons of Powder River Basin coal yearly. Larson and WBA’s publication, Business Pulse magazine, have been actively promoting the GPT project. According to its website, the WBA was created and operates on private funding, advocates for businesses, and “provides a vast communications network to address issues concerning businesses.”
The Bellingham Herald twice covers “Employment at Cherry Point” report
On October 24, 2014, the day after Hodges’ presentation of the WBA’s commissioned report at the expo, the The Bellingham Herald ran a news article in its Local News section entitled, “Study: Cherry Point industries support about 9,000 jobs in Whatcom County,” about the Cherry Point economic impact report that was presented at the expo.
According to the article, WBA President Tony Larson said the report did not factor in the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal (GPT), and he said the reason for the study was “to highlight what currently exists at Cherry Point and have a set of data in place while the community considers future economic development in the area.”
However, GPT, which is the 48 million ton elephant in the room that the “report did not factor in,” was likely the motivation for the WBA’s requesting of the report. In the Herald article, Larson stated, “This is the beginning of the conversation,” and the reporter wrote that Larson “feels that the economic development component has been missing from the conversation about Cherry Point, particularly when it comes to the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal coal terminal.” But, in reality, “the economic development component” has actually been the centerpiece of the conversation when it comes to the proposed GPT, since the project was first announced in early 2011.
About 12 days after the Herald piece on the Cherry Point study, the Herald published an abbreviated version of the same article (four paragraphs of the original article were dropped) with the headline, “Big economic impact from Cherry Point,” in its November 4, 2014 The Bellingham Herald Review, a weekly news review and coupons paper that the Herald sends out to non-subscribers in the county.
The weekly Herald Review has a circulation of 79,000, while there are 13,500 weekday, and 18,000 Sunday Herald paper subscribers. So to put things in perspective, the article which summarized the report was presented as a factual news story by the Herald to its 13,500 subscribers, and then that story on the report was published in the Herald Review, again presented as a news story, and the Herald Review weekly was then distributed to the mailboxes of 79,000 non-subscribers in the county. Thus, a story that reads like a press release is presented as news, without opposing views or questioning the information in the report. That story is then circulated to about half the residents in Whatcom County, “while the community considers future economic development in the area,” as WBA President Tony Larson had explained.
A closer look at the WBA-commissioned report
In looking closer at the report, BP Refinery, Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, and Intalco Alcoa, are the main subjects in terms of the Cherry Point businesses referenced. Those three companies are members of the Whatcom Business Alliance that had commissioned the report and organized the NW Business Expo and Conference. It should also be noted that Gateway Pacific Terminal (SSA Marine/PIT) and Mills Electric, are listed as members of the WBA on its website. GPT is listed as a President’s Club Member which is the top level of WBA membership, costing $5,000.00 annually. Mills Electric is owned by John Huntley who is Co-Chair of the Northwest Jobs Alliance. Huntley is also on the WBA’s board of directors.
When reading the full list of WBA members on its website, readers can see an organization listed there which may not be familiar to Whatcom County residents, especially since it is from Wyoming. That would be the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority (WIA), which was created by the Wyoming State Legislature in 2004.
WIA’s website states: “Within the statutory purview of the WIA is ‘advanced coal technology and advanced energy technology facilities. The facilities and related supporting infrastructure may include all facilities, structures and properties incidental and necessary or useful in the production or transmission of energy’. In addition, effective July 1, 2014, the responsibilities of the WIA include coal exports pursuant to HB 147 which was enacted in the 2014 Legislative Session.” Translation: the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority has money and has the authority to spend that money on efforts to try to ensure that coal export facilities are approved and built.
The Cherry Point report that Hodges presented at the October 23, 2014 expo was timed such that it led right into the final stretch of the 2014 Whatcom County election. The pro-GPT, conservative, affiliated SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst political PACs were funded for the 2014 election almost entirely by $10,000 contributed by PIT. Last year, for the 2013 County Council election, SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs were funded with about $149,000 by contributions from SSA Marine/PIT, BNSF, and coal related companies. The SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs were formed in August/September 2013; Kris Halterman and Lorraine Newman are the listed registrants for SaveWhatcom; Dick Donahue (Donahue also hosts a KGMI radio show), Chet Dow, and Orphalee Smith are the listed registrants for WhatcomFirst.
The messaging in the 2013 and 2014 elections was similar in that SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs, the Northwest Jobs Alliance, and SSA/PIT sold the public the idea that there were organized efforts to “deindustrialize” Cherry Point industrial area. SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst perpetuated this false idea in its campaign flyers and on social media. The same false idea was perpetuated on the official Facebook page for GPT. Northwest Jobs Alliance (NWJA) sent out an October 29, 2014 email to its followers announcing the WBA-commissioned Cherry Point report, and promoting the idea that, “There are those who have been advocating for the de-industrialization of the Cherry Point area.”
Perpetuating a rumor of deindustrialization
The fearmongering by Halterman, SaveWhatcom/WhatcomFirst PACs, and the NWJA, is just a continuation of the pro-GPT conservatives’ 2013 election strategy of perpetuating the rumor that there is an organized effort to deindustrialize the Cherry Point industrial zone. GPT proponents may have realized that their “Good Jobs Now” slogans and inflated job numbers were not convincing the majority of the public that GPT was Whatcom County’s salvation and best idea for its future.
There continues to be a huge wave of opposition to the idea of a 48 million ton coal export terminal at Cherry Point along the Salish Sea shoreline. If GPT proponents can convince the public that the current jobs at Cherry Point industries are imperiled then perhaps they feel there might be some shift from the large opposition to GPT. Now they’ve taken the focus off of GPT and plugged in the Cherry Point industrial area and the public is being told by GPT proponents and promoters that the jobs at Cherry Point are in trouble.
Also, if GPT proponents and promoters can portray those who oppose GPT as people who are trying to take jobs away from individuals currently working at Cherry Point industrial businesses, or as trying to deindustrialize Cherry Point, then that creates an enemy. People who oppose GPT because of environmental concerns have been branded as “eco-terrorists,” “eco-elitists,” “anti-jobs,” and “job-killers,” which then makes it easier for people to depersonalize and fight against them in the coal terminal battle.
The theory seems to be that once that dastardly foe is created who wants to steal away jobs from willing citizens who simply want to work hard to support themselves, it can rally people together against the alleged “job-killers.” And, when fighting a presumed enemy who is also identified by GPT proponents and promoters as opposed to the coal terminal, people will be even stronger in their resolve to support GPT, and to fight against those who oppose it.
The concept being perpetuated is that if you’re against GPT, then you’re against all Cherry Point jobs. But, that is a false premise created by GPT proponents and promoters in order to sell us something we don’t need or want— an invasive, polluting and environmentally damaging coal export terminal that would be the largest in the nation.
On page 2 of Hodges and Byers’ report, there is a disclaimer that appears to echo the messaging from SaveWhatcom, Northwest Jobs Alliance, and SSA/PIT’s advertisements about the ostensible efforts to deindustrialize Cherry Point:
“This report is not intended to show what might happen if a new business was added in an industry sector that does not exist in the county, or what might happen if efforts were implemented to significantly reduce the employment in the area (e.g., if efforts were implemented to ‘deindustrialize’ the area to reduce the number of jobs).”
A disclaimer serving as an unintended claim?
It feels jarringly out of place for that concept of implementing efforts to “deindustrialize,” to have been interjected by Hodges and Byers in what is billed as an objective study about current jobs at Cherry Point. Whether intentional or not, that false premise was delivered to readers of the report via the authors’ disclaimer.
Not only is there no evidence presented of any apparent efforts to “deindustrialize” Cherry Point, but the authors also use the phrases “to significantly reduce the employment in the area” and “deindustrialize the area to reduce the number of jobs.” Those specific phrases attach intent or a purpose of reducing employment, or reducing the number of jobs, to the example given of “if efforts were implemented to ‘deindustrialize’ the area.”
In the Cherry Point employment report, there were three referenced sources listed relating to the petroleum refining industry. All of those petroleum industry economic profiles referenced were funded by the Western States Petroleum Association, which is a trade association that advocates and lobbies on behalf of oil companies.
A November 7, 2014 article in Daily Kos reported that a news release from Sierra Club California stated: “Just days before the election, 7th quarter lobbying filings for the two-year legislative session were released. They showed that the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), the lead trade association for oil companies, spent more than $4 million to influence legislators during the period including July, August and September this year, the last three active months of the legislative session.”
Economic research supporting corporations’ interests
Two of the three petroleum industry economic profiles cited as referenced sources in the Cherry Point employment report were produced by the Washington Research Council (WRC). According to its website, the WRC’s mission is: “To provide timely, credible economic research and policy analysis supporting economic vitality and private sector job creation.” In the economic profiles conducted by the WRC which were cited in the Cherry Point employment report, WRC states it is “a non-profit organization committed to objective analysis of economic and public policy issues in Washington State.”
In terms of the touted commitment to objective analysis of the WRC, readers need only check out a WRC June 11, 2014 published Policy Brief entitled, “A Newly Expanded SEPA Threatens Washington’s Competitiveness,” as just one example of its subjective viewpoint. The brief starts out by saying, “The Washington Department of Ecology and others have recently undertaken SEPA reviews that expand the scope of review beyond state borders to an unprecedented extent. By expanding SEPA in these cases, Washington risks its competitiveness by making the process more uncertain for future projects.”
The brief goes on to quote the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a group that has a long history of representing the interests of industrial corporations, and has a lengthy roster of lobbyists whose efforts shape legislative and regulatory issues. According to OpenSecrets.org, NAM’s total lobbying expenditure from 2012-2014 combined, was $25,640,000.
In the Policy Brief, when describing the effort by environmental groups advocating for an expanded area-wide environmental review for the proposed Pacific NW coal export terminals, NAM characterized that effort as “. . .an attempt to slow down the permitting process and to kill these export expansion efforts by delaying permits for years and by requiring huge expenditures by the private and public sectors.”
It’s not surprising that NAM had been strongly lobbying for the proposed Pacific NW coal export terminals because three of its board members are; Greg Boyce, Chairman and CEO of Peabody Energy; Steven Leer, Executive Chairman of Arch Coal; and David Garin, Group VP Industrial Products for BNSF Railway.
The example above, of the SEPA Policy Brief put forth by WRC, does not match up with its declared, “objective analysis of economic and public policy issues in Washington State” which WRC states on its website that it is committed to. So, it is concerning that multiple petroleum refining economic impact reports/profiles compiled by the WRC were used as reference sources for Hodges’ and Byers’ Cherry Point economic impact report.
Cherry Point employment report used for advocacy
The Whatcom Business Alliance commissioned Hodges and Byers to prepare a report on the economic impacts from Cherry Point businesses, and those businesses are primarily an aluminum smelter and two oil refineries. The report was presented at an expo organized and hosted by the WBA, a big supporter and promoter of the proposed GPT.
It appears that the Cherry Point employment report relied heavily on petroleum industry economic profiles/reports which were funded by the Western States Petroleum Association, a group which advocates and lobbies on behalf of oil companies.
Via a disclaimer inserted into the Introduction (page 2) in their Cherry Point report, Hodges and Byers introduced the rumor that there may be “efforts implemented to ‘deindustrialize’ the area [Cherry Point] to reduce the number of jobs.”
In the last sentence of the report’s conclusion, the authors state a final disclaimer: “This report is not an advocacy piece. It is intended to provide a reference point for discussions about jobs that currently exist in the Cherry Point area.”
Just six days after the report was presented at the WBA’s Business Expo, the Northwest Jobs Alliance sent out an email about the report to its pro-GPT followers. That email ended with the paragraph below that perpetuates the rumor put forth by GPT promoters about supposed efforts to deindustrialize Cherry Point.
“There are those who have been advocating for the de-industrialization of the Cherry Point area. Based upon the facts so carefully laid out in this study, they may want to consider what this would do to their neighbors and their communities.” (bolded emphasis theirs)
Intended or not, Hodges’ and Byers’ WBA-commissioned Cherry Point employment report has already been, and is likely to be used in the future, for advocacy.