Editor’s note: Today’s editorial was written by State Sen. Dean Takko. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Once again, politics triumphs over science at the Washington State Department of Ecology.
For months, I’ve watched with growing concern as the state agency has stepped in and allowed politics to dictate the outcome of decisions that have solid scientific footing. The latest decision involves area oyster growers. Earlier this spring, the agency denied oyster growers at Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor the ability to spray a pesticide to kill burrowing shrimp. The shrimp have been linked to ruining oyster beds and suffocating the oysters.
Interestingly, the agency, using science, approved this same solution just three years ago. In 2015 the agency OK’d the use of the pesticide, calling it ecologically sound. But when it caught the attention of activists, who denounced use of the spray, the agency quickly reversed its course.
The resulting decision threatens to erode the industry: Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor shellfish farmers grow about 25 percent of the oysters harvested in the U.S. Researchers estimate the shrimp could reduce the harvest by about 10 percent per year. These are family farms, who employ hundreds of local people. The impact on their livelihoods will be felt by many across our community.
I raise this because it is symptomatic of a bigger issue: the weakening of our state’s permitting process. This has become a significant problem in our state, one that stands to have long-term implications, particularly for rural communities where economic development opportunities often take longer to come to fruition.
For employers, time is money, and an uncertain permitting process adds up quickly. Time and time again, what we continue to see is the state dragging out the review process. And the impact is costly – especially for smaller, family-owned businesses like those oyster growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.
The politicization of the regulatory process sends the wrong signals to those looking to do business in Washington state. Don’t get me wrong, proper environmental review is prudent and necessary, but asking private companies to invest heavily in the review process only for DOE to reverse itself for political reasons, suggests an unfair playing field. It seems that despite their best efforts to comply with all state and local regulations, decisions are driven by politics, not science, and the cost is borne by the applicant no matter the outcome.
If we, as a state, are truly serious about jumpstarting economies in every community – not just the Puget Sound region – then we have to have an honest conversation about how projects are permitted. Because as it stands currently, politics reigns supreme in state agencies like Ecology.
Washington state is the most trade dependent state in the nation right now, but our regulatory process is hamstringing potential investments in our trade infrastructure. Until that changes, we’re going to have a real tough time trying to get anything approved, especially if regulatory agencies follow the political winds of the day and not their own science.