All political parties are coalitions of some kind. The Democratic Party, especially, is made up of many interest groups, some pretty narrow, that together have greater political influence than they would otherwise have on their own. That requires, of course, that the coalition partners mostly get along. That's easier to do when groups' priorities are in line, or deal with disparate subjects; when they're in direct conflict, not so much.
Labor unions and environmentalists, recognizing their oft-divergent purposes, formed a "Blue-Green alliance" to find common ground. Operationally, the goal was keep a united front at election time and save the disagreements for later. When now-Governor Jay Inslee was running for the job, he relied on the Blue-Green alliance for support but walked a careful line to keep both groups happy. With two proposals for bulk commodity terminals in Washington that would ship coal, the stage was set for a post-election fight.
Inslee had high ratings as a congressman from most labor organizations, but understandably some union leaders had their suspicions that, as a politician focused primarily on global warming, Inslee wouldn't back union-job-creating bulk commodities terminals and go against his Green credentials. Articles like this Grist profile, in which Inslee tried not to take a position on the terminals but couldn't help but make statements about coal, gave them reason to doubt:
"When we reduce the price of dirty electricity in China, we do two things: We subsidize their exports to us, making us less competitive, and we make it less likely that they'll develop cleaner sources of energy."
That struck some labor leaders as closest to Inslee's true feelings on the subject, and some toyed with the idea of backing Rob McKenna instead. Inslee was happy to take strong positions on issues when environmentalists and union members were in agreement, such as including light rail as part of the now-dead Columbia River Crossing project. The Blue-Green alliance held together for him, and the fight over commodity terminals was saved for another day.
That day is now here, and Inslee has made his choice: Greens over Blues. With one terminal proposal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County still active, Inslee's Department of Ecology has chosen broad criteria for the project's environmental impact statement, criteria that are unprecedented in the state's history. Erik Smith at Washington State Wire has the story:
Bowing to political pressure from environmental groups and the green-leaning Inslee Administration, Ecology announced Wednesday that it will launch an environmental review of a coal port proposal near Bellingham using criteria that are breathtaking in scope. The state will attempt to assess the impact of fossil-fuel burning on the other side of the world, as well as the coal trains that would pass through Washington state.
Not too surprisingly, some labor leaders aren't too pleased with Inslee's decision. Smith spoke to Mark Lowry of the Northwest Washington Central Labor Council, who asked rhetorically, "I wonder which state Mr. Inslee is governor of?"
A Blue-Green fight is also brewing over the obscure but pivotal issue of fish consumption rates. While determining the amount of fish the average Washingtonian consumes each month may sound like an academic question for nutritionists to ponder, the state's decision will have far-reaching impacts for businesses, especially industrial businesses whose jobs labor leaders are working to save.
The state will base its surface water quality standards partly on the updated fish consumption rate, and many businesses and labor unions are worried that the state will set a rate so high that compliance will be extremely costly. On the other side, environmentalists and tribes support a far higher rate.
With a worried eye on the upcoming fight, the Washington State Labor Council passed a resolution at their recent convention calling on Inslee to include labor representatives to his water quality advisory panel. While they do not make a policy recommendation in their resolution, their concerns are pretty clear in these two clauses:
WHEREAS, the preliminary recommendation by the Department of Ecology is to increase the current FCR from 6.5 grams of fish per person per day to a range of 157 to 276 grams of fish per day, an increase in assumed fish consumption by a factor of 24 to 42 times per person per day; and
WHEREAS, if this recommended increase stands, the assumed fish consumption rates will result in water quality standards that cannot be achieved or measured with today's technology, potentially eliminating issuance of water use and discharge permits, eliminating industrial operations and jobs
With more opportunity for middle ground on the fish consumption rate than bulk commodity terminals, Inslee may manage to craft a solution that labor and environmentalists can both accept. If he can't, and Inslee again picks Green over Blue, the cracks in the Blue-Green alliance may have electoral consequences for Inslee in 2016.Posted by Adam Faber at August 07, 2013 08:11 AM | Email This