In Our View: A History Of Subterfuge

Typo on mailer may be honest mistake, but oil terminal backers fail to inspire trust

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As anybody in the newspaper business can attest, typos happen.

Those would be typographical errors, and they have been around essentially since the advent of written languages. A dropped letter here, an added word there, and a reporter or editor could find themselves in a difficult situation.

Some typos are more embarrassing than others. Printers of a 1631 version of The King James Bible omitted a key word from one of the Ten Commandments, instructing the faithful that, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” England’s King Charles I was not amused, and the printers were stripped of their business license and fined a kingly amount.

Over time, the notion of a “typo” has expanded a bit, becoming a catch-all for any manner of editing oversight. And while this brief history of the typo is indisputably fascinating, it also is leading us somewhere — to a discussion of the proposed oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. You see, proponents of the terminal recently blanketed Clark County with mailers detailing the benefits of the project. They sent out about 136,000 copies of a flier extolling the virtues of bringing up to 360,000 barrels of crude oil per day by train through the Columbia River Gorge and into the heart of Vancouver.

Propaganda is part of the game, and the parties that make up Vancouver Energy — Tesoro Corp. and Savage Companies — have every right to try to sway public opinion. But, in the process, they managed to obfuscate the facts. The flier boasts that the projected annual tax revenue generated by the terminal would be $2 billion. That is more than a bit misleading, considering that annual tax revenue is projected to be $7.8 million — or roughly 0.4 percent of $2 billion. The $2 billion, it turns out, is the projected economic value of the terminal during construction and the first 15 years of operation.

As mentioned, typos happen. And while we trust that Vancouver Energy’s error was an honest mistake, it does raise valid concerns about the companies’ attention to detail; about their tendency to obscure facts; and about their unwillingness to engage in honest debate over the benefits of the project.

For instance, consider exactly how many jobs would be created. When Kelly Flint, senior vice president and general counsel for Savage Companies, spoke to the Rotary Club of Vancouver last year, he said the project would create an estimated 250 temporary construction jobs, 80 full-time jobs at the start of operations, and about 110 full-time jobs at its peak. Now Vancouver Energy is boasting that it will “generate more than 1,000 jobs.”

Or consider the frequent declarations from Tesoro that it is committed to safety. Yet a 2010 explosion at its refinery in Anacortes killed seven workers and resulted in a $2.39 million fine for the company — the largest ever handed out by the state Department of Labor & Industries. Then, when two workers were injured this year at a refinery in Martinez, Calif., officials temporarily blocked federal investigators from inspecting the site, according to reports.

Or consider Tesoro’s insistence that it will be a worthy community partner in Vancouver. Except that last year it agreed to pay $1.1 million in civil penalties for violations of the Clean Air Act at several refineries — the largest fine ever handed out under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel regulations program.

In truth, the companies involved with Vancouver Energy have demonstrated a long history of subterfuge. And it didn’t take a typo on a mailer to reveal that.