Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said his focus as the new chairman of the House Committee on Rural Development, Agriculture and Natural Resources is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
“My metric as bills come forward — it’s the chair who determines which move forward and which won’t, the buck stops with the chair — is, ‘will it create jobs, or impede job creation?’” said Chapman, recently elected to his third term in the 24th District. “I’m not going to look at things that impede jobs, and want to be more proactive in creating jobs around the natural resource economy.”
He continued, “It puts me in a position to not put in any policy that will restrict access to logging and in a position to make sure we continue to fund Fish and Wildlife so we have robust fisheries and hunting seasons.”
Chapman, who was elected chairman Dec. 10, said he wants to look at all the issues the committee considers “through a more pro business lens, and not a regulatory lens.”
Because the economy of the Olympic Peninsula is so dependent on natural resources — logging, fishing, etc. — Chapman said it was critical that the chairman of the committee be someone from the region.
“It’s important that the chair stays on the Olympic Peninsula so, in that, I’m honored to have been chosen,” he said. “It could have gone to someone who lived in the I-5 corridor,” but Chapman had strong support from his fellow Democrats for the job.
Greater Grays Harbor Inc. CEO Lynette Buffington said Chapman’s selection is good news for the region.
“Grays Harbor County has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic and we need champions of rural communities in every part of the Legislature,” she said. “Rep. Chapman’s previous experience as vice chairman of the committee allows for continuity in leadership and we look forward to the representative advocating for the needs of 24th District’s agricultural and natural resource industries within the committee.”
Chapman has served on the committee for several years, under previous chairman Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, who lost to his Republican challenger Joel McEntire in the 19th District in the 2020 general election.
“The committee has been chaired by Rep. Blake so I don’t have to make much of a course direction change,” said Chapman. “He did a great job protecting access to hunting and fishing and making sure we did not over regulate the logging industry.”
Chapman was deeply disappointed Blake was not re-elected, saying he is excited about his appointment by his peers, but would have preferred getting the gig under different circumstances.
“You want to be able to feel like you’re stepping in for someone who had moved on on their own,” he said. “I’m excited about (being the chair) but would have been more than happy to wait until he retired. I will try to continue the good work that he has done during the years.”
Chapman gave an example of his priorities as chairman, speaking to an individual who wants to open a mill on the Peninsula. Chapman said to him, “we’re not going to regulate you out of business.”
“We want to set up a framework where we emphasize the rural development aspect of the committee, and that is job growth around the natural resources economy,” said Chapman. He told the individual who wanted to start the mill, which would create around 85 local jobs, “I can assure you we are not going to regulate the supply of logs you will need to run your mill, not going to slow that down.”
Chapman said he helped pass a bill two years ago that gave mills extended preferential tax rates, which was set to expire in 2024, extending it to 2025, providing the level of certainty those who want to start mills need to get started.
“I can’t guarantee they can sell their logs, but I can guarantee a framework in which managing their commercial forests will continue and not become more onerous, and maybe we can find ways to relax that even a little bit,” said Chapman.
Chapman said, “I think we’re kind of headed into a real positive stretch for the forest products industry. “I think people realize wood is a renewable resource that stores carbon and can be made into a whole host of products, and I think the days of demonizing the timber industry are long gone.”
The pandemic may have had its impact on changing some of the general public’s perceptions of the industry.
“During the pandemic, when everything shut down, one of the first to get reopened was commercial forestry,” said Chapman, because of the initial rush on paper products, when store shelves were emptied of their supplies of toilet paper and there was worries about shortages of the building blocks of items like diapers. “If that didn’t send a message … this is a vital industry.”
Another interesting item on the horizon, potentially, is the use of forest industry byproducts to produce aviation jet fuel.
“I’ve had meetings this year with a number of companies who are looking at the Peninsula as a base of this sustainable supply of logging byproducts, woody biomass and woody debris,” said Chapman. “From what I understand Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, they are looking at making non fossil fuel out of wood biomass and that could be a huge opportunity for jobs on the Peninsula.”
Part of his job as chairman would be to make an environment that would encourage investment in that type of commerce in the region.
“I want to make sure there are policies in place that will encourage that,” said Chapman.
Chapman understands his new role will take him outside his home district.
“When you’re a member (of the committee) you are really focused just on your district. As chair now, I have to look a the ag community east of the mountains, the shellfish industry south of Grays Harbor, I have to look at policy from a statewide perspective,” he said. “And that is why I put the rural economic development lens on all we do. We want jobs in Pacific and Wahkiakum counties as much as we do in Clallam and Jefferson and Ferry and Stevens and Grant counties.”
It’s a broader scope of work, and requires building relationships across the state, something he said Blake did extremely well as chairman of the committee, taking Chapman around the state and giving him a taste of what the job of committee chairman required.
“It’s definitely extra work, and a great challenge,” said Chapman.
The 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 11.