Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said she didnt like Arctic drilling, but also said she couldnt take a position on it for lack of group guiding principles.
Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman said she didn't like Arctic drilling, but also said she couldn't take a position on it for lack of "guiding principles." Don Wilson/Port of Seattle

Last month, five elected officials at the Port of Seattle agreed to let Shell keep its Arctic oil drilling rigs in Seattle. The Port of Seattle's slogan is "Where a sustainable world is headed." Recent research shows that burning any oil and gas from the Arctic could help tip global warming past two degrees Celsius—a mutually agreed-upon disaster scenario by governments all over the world.

If King County taxpayers—the people who subsidize the port—had time to weigh in on this decision, that'd be one thing. But they had less than a week to understand the stakes, e-mail commissioners, and show up to the one public meeting on the subject. And that's because our elected officials kept the deal secret for months.

We should be giving Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman hell for this. She's one of the three port commissioners who directly enabled this decision, and her actions directly contradict the platforms of environmental sustainability and transparency on which she ran.

Stephanie Bowman has been on the Port Commission since 2013, but unlike some of her fellow port commissioners, her campaign finance records show that she hasn't taken that much money from companies associated with the Shell decision. (She did take $250 from Strategies 360, the lobbying firm hired by Foss, which is itself playing intermediary between Shell and the port in this deal. But let's be real, $250 is relative pocket change.) When asked by the King County Democrats to identify her top three priorities as port commissioner, Bowman wrote about middle class jobs, the environmental impacts of port-related movements, and increased transparency.

In a 2013 video interview with the 36th District Democrats, Bowman expanded on how she'd like to see the port become more accessible to the public. "With contracting, all of those things should be open to the—I mean they are open to the public—but you need to make it easy for people to get to without having to do a Freedom of Information Act, which is very expensive for citizens, and it's especially expensive for the port," she said. "So whether you put that online—contracts, bids, all of that—but it needs to be easier for people to access."

Speaking of transparency: The only way the public found out about the Shell-related lease contract was when Joel Connelly at Seattlepi.com broke the news. The only way the public found out about the lease signing itself was when the Seattle Times leaked a letter from Port of Seattle CEO Ted Fick to environmental lawyer Patti Goldman. When Goldman requested a copy of the lease, the port treated it like a public disclosure request. It took a week for the port to release the information—the very kind of behavior Bowman criticized in her 2013 campaign.

Bowman also railed against Arctic drilling at the January 13 meeting on the subject. "I don't like drilling in the Arctic," she said. "I want to be really clear on that. This is not where I want this port to go."

Still, Bowman didn't second a motion brought forward by Port Commissioner Tom Albro that could have slowed the rush to approve the Shell deal. Her excuse for moving forward with the decision was that the port didn't have any guiding principles for energy projects. Despite the fact that the port's slogan is "Where a sustainable world is headed," Bowman said she felt it would be a "cop out" to reject this particular lease without any kind of policy in place to guide those kinds of decisions.

"Barring that, then every decision that I make here is about what I personally like and don't like, and I can't live with that," she said. "I don't believe that's why I was elected."

Translation: I really need to abandon my principles right now because no one's told me what kind of principles I'm supposed to have yet!

Come on. Making principled decisions is exactly what Bowman was elected to do. We elect public officials who are supposed to represent our values and be able to use their own good judgment when necessary. Representative democracy! It's not a cult! The Seattle city council doesn't vote on guiding principles for homeless encampments, for example, and then let individual council members take positions in line with those guiding principles. Taking positions on stuff is the job. Then there's a vote, the majority vote wins, and that's what's called public process.

It's not a cop out to take a position on a topic. It is a cop out to say that you, as an individual, are incapable of taking a position because you don't have any group guiding principles for that position.

Bowman, however, did make one position clear: She said she was unwilling to move forward with the status quo any longer. Aside from this particular decision, she'd like to see some real change. This particular decision, however, didn't qualify.

You can give Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman hell at bowman.s@portseattle.org. Copy me and, hell, copy Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, too (feedback@ios.doi.gov or @secretaryjewell). The next public Port Commission meeting is Tuesday, March 10, at Sea-Tac.

Next up: Port Commissioner Tom Albro.