Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Government by Energy Imperium:. Part II on the WA 42nd

ConocoPhillips (L) and BP's CherryPoint(R) refinery emissions reaching the cloud cover on a fall morning as seen from Boulevard Park, Bellingham, WA.

 Whatcom County, specifically the 42nd WA Legislative district, is well on the way to becoming an energy powerhouse with two oil refineries, oil and natural gas pipelines from Edmonton, the Sumas Energy Hub, and  very soon the Gateway Pacific Terminal - the largest coal export terminal in North America. The carbon industry will change the future of this county and many lives along with it.  The 'failure' of our efforts to completely colonize the volatile and contested Middle East (e.g "where the prize lies") means that America's (carbon based) energy is ever more dependent upon more "stable" sources. Already this has meant a virtually new economy has arisen in America's interior for shale oil and gas.  For the fourth corner, this has meant (and will continue to mean) greater export of Albertan oil and Canadian natural gas.  Last, and hardly least, $13/ton Powder River Basin low sulphur coal will assure a multi-billion dollar per year energy export to China.

The impact of the "carbon club" upon our lives in Whatcom County will be encompassing. Shutting down access to local parks will be the least of it. We can expect a continued increased in our already high cancer rates, diminished air quality, much busier cargo traffic on both water and rail, and an influx of tax dollars and wealth for a select few. We can also reasonably expect increased poverty. The "carbon industry" is the prototypical resource baron. Its colonies (e.g. Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma) adapt to a permanent state of high wealth for some and drenching poverty for the rest.  Money and resources are effectively siphoned out of "carbon colonies" for the energy benefits of busy metropolitan cities elsewhere. How can we hope to make the best of this?

One answer would be implementing a tax system specifically designed to capture the flow of some these energy dollars and return it to the local community. Many refinery cities do this less than optimally. There are several ways this could be accomplished in the Washington state legislature. First, BOT (Business and Occupation Tax) rates for energy industries could be increased to the point where local communities could start to benefit from the flow of energy through their cities and counties. Second, WA state could implement a corporate income tax; something long overdue for this state. Third, WA state could allow for a significant greater energy transfer tax based upon the amount of energy shipped across pipelines and through ports in it s local communities.  Many small nations and states like California benefit greatly from this type of taxation. Last, there is an inordinate amount of money to made from the energy industry by trading energy futures. We will be in an excellent position here in Bellingham to develop high speed trading facilities for energy futures based on information which can be procured locally. Local government could do quite a bit more to promote such industry and perhaps other high tech industries which service the energy sector. 

An important key to maintaining a high quality of life for the residents of an energy colony will be  prioritizing environmental regulation and regulatory bodies and maintaining funding for local educational systems. To accomplish these goals, WA state will need progressive oriented law makers unafraid to pass laws that increase environmental regulation and monitoring of pollution, health, disease, poverty rates, etc.  I can think of no better use for our waterfront in Bellingham than the development of educational facilities that produce research on clean, renewable energy. A surtax on every barrel of oil and ton of coal that passes through Whatcom County could help make such  an evolution happen.


Dan McShane said...

Interesting ideas Ryan. I have used the term energy colony to describe Whatcom County myself. For hydro power, Seattle is one of the great colonizers grabing resources in Whatcom and Pend Oreille Counties.

Ryan M. Ferris said...

Fighting big energy is a David vs. Goliath proposition without much hope of a slingshot. We really should be assuming more energy will be processed, routed, refined in Whatcom and attempt to develop a partnership with local and federal politicians who are willing to help us defray the environmental, health, and economic costs to the community. In a just theory of political economy, our resources should bring us wealth and health and not just result in an export economy that enriches only a limited class of resource barons. Without politicians that support the community and not corporations, the equivalent of economic rape happens to small communities who are resource rich. Considering the value of our energy exports, Whatcom County should be the Switzerland of the United States.