It has been nearly five years since the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal came to light, and Whatcom County residents are still waiting for clear details on what jobs the proposed project would actually deliver in Whatcom County. Other coal terminal proposals are much more clear and suggest far fewer jobs.
GPT Fact Check will shine a light on the project’s unchecked job claims. We will examine GPT developer SSA Marine’s and its advocacy organization the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports’ PR and job promises, providing readers with the best data available for you to draw your own conclusions about the potential job benefits—or losses—for our community. Our goal is to support a reality-based conversation about the project.
Why is this necessary when GPT’s official environmental impact study is tackling a wide range of issues? Unfortunately, the EIS currently underway will not evaluate the project applicant’s job claims at all nor will it assess economic impact in any substantive way. It is prudent therefore to fact check, gut check, and ask the hard questions before green-lighting any project of this size and impact.
The truth is no one has looked at SSA Marine’s job claims for GPT. SSA Marine’s consultants were not hired to verify the job claims. No government agency has taken on the task.
When we began examining GPT’s job claims, we waded into the project’s (very limited and aggregated) documentation of new employment, read numerous expert reports, discussed the issues with involved economists and financial experts, and compared GPT’s numbers to other current coal terminal proposals. At each turn, we found red flags.
For example, GPT’s numbers for direct jobs are notably higher than the proposed coal export facility Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, even when adjusting for export volume, potential non-coal commodities and local jobs compared to regional jobs.
GPT also claims a much higher local, economic “ripple effect” than Millennium does. GPT claims each direct job at the terminal would create or support nearly two additional jobs. Millennium’s claim is closer to one additional job created or supported.
The national financial firm PFM Group flagged this particular issue in its economic analysis of GPT released earlier this year. More recently, WWU economists Hart Hodges and James McCafferty explored this question in a Bellingham Herald piece. They noted that Martin and Associates, the firm SSA Marine contracted to assess GPT’s job numbers, “estimated the impacts of a multi-product bulk cargo export facility,” (our emphasis) because that was the business plan SSA Marine gave them.
But only 11 percent of GPT’s proposed 54 million metric tons of exports would be multi-product. The vast majority would be coal export, just like Millennium in Longview. As Hodges and McCafferty note, “the lower estimates [ripple effect] for the Longview facility are for a more highly automated, coal oriented business plan.”
Why then did SSA Marine ask their consultants to model 100 percent of GPT’s employment projections on a multi-product, bulk export terminal with a higher job ripple effect? Only 11 percent of GPT exports would potentially be multi-product.
For this and other reasons, GPT’s job claims simply do not add up. They make for good PR to rally support in Whatcom County, but they do not hold water under scrutiny.
If you want to learn more about the issues, pro or con, then read our upcoming blogs and evaluate for yourself how GPT’s claims stack up against the known facts.
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