All Politics is Local

Who or what’s to blame for mill job loses? Two state legislators disagree

Mill workers still without contract    [JUMP]Last week, the Georgia-Pacific paper mill in Camas announced it will shed up to 300 jobs.

Two state legislators who represent the area gave two differing statements regarding the news.

On Nov. 15, state Rep. Liz Pike, a Camas Republican who is running for Clark County council chair, issued a statement lamenting the mill’s closure, which has been central to the town’s economy and identity.

Company spokeswoman Kristi Ward told The Columbian that the mill was losing the jobs because of “a declining marketplace.”

“People just aren’t using as much office paper as they used to,” she said.

However, Pike drew a different conclusion. In her statement, Pike wrote that despite the company’s efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, Georgia-Pacific made the reductions in the face of an unfriendly regulatory environment in Washington.

From her statement:

(“)Georgia-Pacific has recognized that with the additional water and air standards foisted upon them from Olympia, and the possibility of new carbon taxes and more regulations, its future is limited in our state. The sad reality is that it’s more economical for GP to expand existing operations in Louisiana where the business climate is more favorable, than to fight a losing battle here in Washington state.

“Over the years, extreme environmental regulations along Washington’s coast decimated the timber industry. We’ve nearly lost Boeing. Alcoa has shuddered its Wenatchee aluminum plant and reduced its Ferndale operations. Amazon is looking elsewhere for another headquarters. And now my community will have to find ways to move forward without hundreds of mill jobs. When will we finally understand that the more roadblocks handed down from Olympia, the more manufacturers and other employers will vote with their feet? It’s time our state leaders recognize this latest canary in the coal mine and begin working to keep jobs in Washington, rather than incentivizing our employers to seek greener pastures.”

Implementing a carbon tax has long been a goal of Gov. Jay Inslee. A special election earlier this month put Democrats in full control of the Legislature, potentially granting Inslee a freer hand to pursue that goal.

This week, State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, issued a newsletter with a different take on the mill. Rivers noted that “Georgia-Pacific folks point to a drop in demand for certain kinds of paper …” and that it’s part of a “competitive global market.” She also wrote that while the state’s regulatory environment affects business leaders’ decisions, she defended Inslee.

Some are laying the blame for all of this solely on Governor Inslee. He and I have very different political DNA, but such a claim is inaccurate and irresponsible.

The Camas announcement is a perfect example of why we must always be looking for economic development opportunities – preferably to create jobs, but sometimes to replace jobs lost to the combination of regulations and competition.

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