Guest opinion: Legislators should balance manufacturing jobs with climate efforts

Editor’s note: Senate Bill 5126 was scheduled for an executive session hearing in the House Committee on Appropriations on April 20. — MD

Here on the Olympic Peninsula, we are proud to have two pulp and paper mills in Port Townsend and Port Angeles who lead in innovation and support great family wage jobs. Unfortunately, a bill now under consideration by the Legislature is pitting the economy against the environment, to the detriment of this community and others like it in Washington.

At issue is Senate Bill 5126, also known as the Climate Commitment Act. SB 5126 recently passed the Senate by a vote of 25-24 and is now being considered by the House of Representatives. This bill aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by establishing a cap-and-trade program that requires carbon emitters to reduce their emissions or purchase allowances to offset those emissions.

With just under two weeks left in session, it’s imperative that legislators find a way to balance the future of family wage jobs with reduced carbon emissions.

The proposal is intended to reduce carbon emissions and targets local manufacturers in our area and across the state. People on both sides of the aisle are concerned about protecting and maintaining the environment for future generations and it makes sense to ensure public policy supports these values.

But proposals like these go awry in the punitive approach they take to manufacturers, including pulp and paper mills. Without exception, manufacturers in Washington are already being innovative, looking for new ways to be more efficient and reduce greenhouse gases under the watchful eye of local, state and federal regulatory agencies.

Of specific concern are companies designated as “energy intensive trade exposed” or EITE, meaning they are based locally and follow Washington’s environmental laws, but compete domestically and globally, including in places where regulations can be far less rigorous.

Since EITE companies account for only 5 percent of carbon emissions in our state, they should be the gold standard for state legislators. Instead, this legislation’s current approach twists environmental progress into something many people fear for its negative effects on jobs. Here’s how this plays out.

Pulp and paper mills in the Pacific Northwest employ union-backed, essential workers, and make essential everyday products — from corrugated cardboard boxes to food packaging to toilet paper.

Placing the EITE sector under duress with a proposal like SB 5126 increases opportunities for competitors to make these same products with a fraction of the environmental rules that we have here.

In Washington, pulp and paper products made with carbon-free hydropower, carbon-neutral biomass, wind, solar power and natural gas could be manufactured elsewhere – like China – using coal and making climate change worse. The technical term for this is called “leakage,” which is when greenhouse gas emissions and essential jobs are moved to places with worse emissions, while also hurting our own economic competitiveness here at home. Leakage is a real “lose-lose” outcome.

Policies like SB 5126, in its current form, do not solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. It would only make matters worse, costing us jobs in the process.

It is possible to recognize two critical public policy issues as equally important and determine that legislative solutions won’t hurt one at the expense of the other. We all want to enjoy clean air and water, but we should not sacrifice jobs and the economy – particularly in our rural communities where good paying, family-wage jobs are hard to come by.

Lawmakers must build protections into Senate Bill 5126 for manufacturing, including the pulp and paper sector, before they conclude their work on April 25. Carbon pricing plans should reduce emissions, but not at the expense of jobs or whole sectors of our economy.

Chris McCabe is the executive director of the Northwest Pulp & Paper Association. Visit