Bill Bryant is a Republican businessman with hair so nice that it looks like it came out of a frozen yogurt machine. On January 13, he took a position in favor of the lease for Shell's Arctic drilling fleet at the one strange public meeting on the subject. But out of all five commissioners (including the two who fought the lease), Bryant's position may have actually been the most consistent. He didn't waste a ton of time bemoaning climate change. Instead, Bryant claimed he didn't believe this decision would affect Arctic drilling one way or the other (avoiding all responsibility for making a decision in the first place, but okay), and he didn't want to lose the jobs. Bryant also says he's a conservationist with a pro-environment track record.
The latter didn't stop Bryant from pitting environmental concerns against "200 family wage jobs" he said would be lost if port commissioners rejected the lease. "Rejecting this lease would be an act of political symbolism, but it would be symbolism at the expense of the middle class," Bryant said at the January 13 meeting. "That must stop."
You may also remember Bryant as an avid tunnel supporter. In 2010, at an Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Program groundbreaking ceremony, he said that the project couldn't afford to wait. He used the same "family wage jobs" argument back then, too.
Building and construction trade unions, along with the ILWU, did argue for the lease at that January public meeting. But not all labor groups agree that rejecting the lease should have meant losing jobs. David Freiboth, executive secretary at the Martin Luther King Jr. King County Labor Council, says that deals like this one often make the "jobs versus environment" argument because of the way negotiations are conducted in secret. With the Shell decision, the public had little chance to react. When the proposal did become public, it was presented as an urgent decision: jobs or nothing.
"Oil companies are famous for coming in with, 'We've got jobs for you, but if you don't give us what we want, we'll take jobs away,'" Freiboth says.
Bill Bryant is considering a run for governor. And you can't become governor in this state without being green. Bryant said at the January 13 meeting that he's a committed conservationist, and in 2007, he ran on a platform of restoring Puget Sound. As Sightline highlighted a couple of weeks ago, Bryant's a founding board member of the Nisqually River Foundation and Stewardship Partners. Washington Conservation Voters even endorsed the guy, and so did the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, which contributed a total of $1,300 to both of Bryant's campaigns, according to campaign finance records.
Bryant's other campaign contributors, however, do show some potential conflicts of interest with the conservation of Puget Sound. In his 2007 and 2011 campaigns, Bryant took a total of $5,000 in donations from T.F. "Cholly" Mercer, then an executive at Rainier Petroleum Corporation, and the company itself. In 2014, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance sued Rainier Petroleum, alleging that the company, which has a facility at Pier 15, discharged pollutants in violation of the Clean Water Act going back as far as 2009. The hearing is scheduled for January of next year. Puget Soundkeeper also has another ongoing lawsuit against Rainier Petroleum alleging other Clean Water Act violations at a facility in SoDo.
Bryant also received at least $10,200 from SSA Marine, a terminal operations company, and people associated with it at the time, including Jon Hemingway, now chairman of the board of directors at SSA Marine, his wife, Kimberly Hemingway, then-chairman Ricky Smith, and then-clerk Suzanne Nunez. SSA Marine has come under close environmental scrutiny of late, as one of its subsidiaries, Pacific International Terminals (PIT), is set on building a giant coal terminal at Cherry Point, a bit of land in the northwest corner of the state off the Salish Sea. In 2013, PIT settled for $1.6 million over a lawsuit claiming the company violated the Clean Water Act by destroying wetlands.
More uncomfortable coziness: Public records show that a Saltchuk chairman emeritus and the company's owners contributed $12,400 to Bryant's campaigns. Saltchuk subsidiary Foss Maritime is the leasee allowing Shell to use Terminal 5.
Bryant was able to muster more than half a million dollars for his campaigns, though, so the examples above are mere drops of hypocrisy in the proverbial bucket. In Bryant's first race, he outspent the incumbent port commissioner by nearly twofold; in the second, he spent eight times the total of his primary challenger's contributions. Why so much money in a race few people care about? Maybe Bryant saw the port as a political jumping-off point for his gubernatorial ambitions. It's worth noting, though, that Publicola called out the commissioner in 2011 for his "personal business interest in the Port," referencing Bryant's gig at his foreign trade firm, Bryant Christie. (They still gave him an "above average" rating.)
Still, it's unclear how Bryant can call himself a conservationist and also support Shell's plan to exploit the Arctic for fossil fuels. The EPA predicts that climate change will increase coastal erosion of Puget Sound and threaten fragile salmon populations (populations that are plenty threatened already). The Washington Department of Ecology predicts more water pollution in river basins prone to flooding. In other parts of the state, drier, hotter conditions due to climate change pose heightened wildfire risks. A study published in Science last year showed that for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature, lightning strikes—a major proximate cause of wildfires—will increase 12 percent in the United States. A warming climate also means retreating glaciers and less snowpack, meaning bare summits where people used to ski.
So let's give Bill Bryant hell. He can be reached at email@example.com. Please cc me on your letters: firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternately, some people have been asking me if I can provide a form letter. Here's a pretty good one on Twitter.
Next up: Port Commissioner John Creighton.