Washington Legislature

InvestigateWest co-hosts stormwater forum that shows civic discourse is still possible

InvestigateWest reached a milestone this week when we co-hosted a large public-policy forum on the State Capitol grounds in Olympia.

The subject was stormwater, the polluted rainwater runoff I’ve been writing about for perhaps a decade now, with particular emphasis on its effects on Puget Sound, where it is the largest source of toxics.  For two years running environmentalists have unsuccessfully advanced plans in Olympia to raise money to deal with the problem. More bills are pending in the current legislative session, so it seemed like a logical time to raise the issue’s profile and encourage a frank discussion.

That we got. And while we never expected to resolve the entire issue at a lunchtime forum, it did feel like progress to hear all the panelists acknowledge that stormwater is a difficult problem that somehow we are going to have to deal with collectively.

Seven legislators and several legislative aides joined environmentalists, business lobbyists and at least three journalists in the audience of 70. Overall it had the tone of a civil discussion with respect for all points of view – the kind of civic discourse often lacking in this age so seemingly dominated by vitriol. Once upon a time, news organizations did more of this kind of thing. The presidential debates of 1956 and 1960 may be the best-known examples. Journalists do still occasionally organize these events, but it seems to me that more of this sort of discussion could be helpful to citizens and policy-makers on all sides of many issues.

Co-hosting were Sightline Institute and Washington Policy Center, the two think tanks that have most carefully followed the stormwater story in Washington. I was fortunate to work with Brandon Houskeeper, a policy analyst at WPC, and Lisa Stiffler, journalism fellow at Sightline.

Byline: 

InvestigateWest co-sponsors forum on stormwater issues

Please join InvestigateWest, the  Washington Policy Center and Sightline Institute for an informative conversation about stormwater, the biggest threat to clean water in the Pacific Northwest. It's next Wednesday, March 23, from Noon to 1:15 p.m., Conference room B/C, John Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia.

According to state officials, stormwater pollution is the top threat to the health of Puget Sound. Over the last several years Washington lawmakers have considered various measures to protect Puget Sound, including proposals to increase taxes or put fees on chemicals, such as oil and grease, to pay for projects to clean up stormwater. But with local and state budgets stretched to the breaking point, what actions can be taken to deal with this problem? What can be done about polluted runoff that will help the environment, but won't hamper the economy
 

Now is the time to have this discussion. The Department of Ecology is drafting regulations to require a more widespread use of "green" stormwater solutions and the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) is receiving public comments on its draft Strategic Science Plan, which will be used by the future Legislatures.

Format:

Panel discussion/Q-and-A followed by moderator-led interaction with audience members.

Bring your questions and suggestions!

Featuring:

- William Ruckelshaus, former two-time administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and founding chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council

- Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director, Washington Department of Ecology

- Grant Nelson, Association of Washington Business, Government Relations

Panel of questioners:

- Brandon Houskeeper, Policy Analyst, Center for the Environment, Washington Policy Center, www.washingtonpolicy.org

Byline: 

2011: It's not environment vs. jobs, but rather environment = jobs, says activist/politician

 EASTSOUND, ORCAS ISLAND – Everyone knows Washington’s budget crunch is going to be really severe come next spring. But it wasn’t until I heard state Sen. Kevin Ranker’s take on the situation the other day – complete with new numbers – that I realized how impossible it will be to realistically expect money for enhanced environmental protections in 2011.

Addressing members of the volunteer but quasi-governmental Marine Resource Committees of north Puget Sound counties, the San Juan County Democrat laid out in stark terms why it will be so hard to cut $5 billion from a $31 billion state budget. That alone would represent a 16 percent reduction from an already-decimated budget. But it’s actually worse than it sounds. Much, much worse.

Here’s why: Of that $31 billion, some $23 billion comes from categories that can’t really be reduced, Ranker said: debt service, Medicaid, prisons, pensions, transportation, the capital budget and the constitutionally protected state contribution to public education. (Now, the Sunday Seattle Times seemed to anticipate efforts to make some fairly substantial cuts there anyway. Ranker seemed to have access to newer and scarier numbers, though.)

What does that leave? Three areas get the remaining $8 billion of the state budget: Higher education, government services and natural resources (a.k.a. environment). “Government services” sounds like a likely place to cut until you understand that it includes money for senior citizens, health care, the needy and so forth.

 So $5 billion – and it could grow to $5.2 billion, Ranker says – is supposed to be cut out of $8 billion for those three areas. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Said Ranker:

Enviros urge last-minute calls to legislators to pass stormwater-cleanup bill; oil, agriculture interests opposed, with lawsuit threatened

Some interesting twists are developing in environmentalists’ campaign to convince the Washington Legislature to pass a tax on hazardous chemicals and petroleum products to clean up the No. 1 pollution source of Puget Sound, stormwater. Enviros say they need a flood of last-minute calls from constituents to prod legislators into action before they adjourn their annual session in Olympia Thursday night.

While Puget Sound is the focus of the debate, stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution for many waterbodies nationwide, if the truth be told. That's one reason the machinations in Olympia are interesting – they may presage similar fights elsewhere in the future.

On one side are the enviros, city and county governments, labor, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate. Sounds formidable, eh? On the other side are the oil industry, farm groups, and possibly other opponents I haven’t learned about yet.

Not long ago I brought up how this bill to boost the tax on petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous substances was a bit of a pig in a poke. Collecting $225 million a year in the name of cleaning up Puget Sound and other water bodies, the legislation (HB 3181 and SB 6851) would have funneled more than two-thirds of the revenue straight to the state’s general fund in the first year.

Taxing pollutants to pay for water pollution cleanup -- too simple to pass Washington Legislature?

It's a little tough to tell, but it sounds like the idea of raising taxes on petroleum products and other toxic materials to pay for cleaning up stormwater runoff could have trouble getting through the recession-battered Washington Legislature this year. Taxing pollutants to pay for pollution cleanup may be too simple an idea, I suppose.

Today enviros are calling for green-minded citizens to e-mail their representatives in Olympia in support of what they’re calling the Clean Water Act of 2008 (HB 3181/SB 6851). It would raise taxes on petroleum and other toxic products that represent the biggest single environmental threat to Puget Sound (not to mention putting a whole bunch of other Washington waterways into violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972. The one that was supposed to control water pollution by 1985.

Right now the Leg is barreling toward a supposed conclusion – but with nothing even close to agreement on how to balance the budget. The Senate raised its hand for an increase in the sales tax. But Gov. Christine Gregoire and House leaders appear to not like that idea, although they’re careful politicians all and haven’t ruled it out, either.

Now, I’ve been writing about the need to clean up stormwater – in particular to rescue Puget Sound, but also as a nationwide program – for going on a decade now. Never before has the Legislature gotten this close to putting into effect such a large, ongoing and broadly based revenue source for stormwater cleanup.

Let's try this again: Washington state Senate passes a bill limiting the use of BPA

Mothers take great care to provide the best for their children, choosing nutritious formula and food for their young. So why is a chemical that may hinder a child's development allowed in baby bottles and sippy cups?

That was the sentiment behind a 36-9 vote in the Washington state SenatJennifere today for a bill (SB 6248) to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers for young children. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this week 95-1, but that bill (HB 1180) went further by also banning the chemical in bottles containing sports drinks such as Gatorade.

BPA is widely used in shatterproof plastic containers for food and drinks, as well as a plastic lining in cans for food and soda. Studies have shown that when these containers become hot, whether through microwaving or by pouring hot liquid into them, BPA can seep into the food or drink. This is also occurs when the plastics get scratched over time.

Federal safety regulators have expressed concern about the harmful effects the chemical could have on fetuses and young children's brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. The chemical has also been linked to a variety of cancers, diabetes, and obesity.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration "believes there are great causes for concern, especially among the youngest,” said Rep.

Thousands of lost crab pots in Puget Sound harm marine wildlife

Sitting on the floor of Puget Sound are thousands of pounds of derelict fishing gear. Lost fishing gear in a large body of water doesn't really sound like a big deal at first, but when looked at a bit more closely the effects can be shocking.

Jennifer“Derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound is a problem. There is an estimated - maybe - 15,000 crab pots that have been lost in the last 5 years in Puget Sound,”  Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, told the Agriculture and Natural Resources committee earlier this week, in support of House Bill 2593.

If passed, the measure would direct the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to solicit a $2 donation every time a recreational fishing license is purchased. The money would go into a grant program that would fund organizations to remove derelict shellfish pots.

In addition to being essentially garbage at the bottom of Puget Sound, derelict crap pots have an enormous impact on the marine ecosystem. Lost crab pots continue to catch and kill crabs long after the bait is gone, as well as other marine life, for up to two years. Crab larvae is also a large portion of Chinook salmon diet in certain areas of Puget Sound.

“The average lost crab pot will catch 30 crabs in a year and will kill 21 of those crabs," Ginny Broadhurst of the Northwest Straights Commission told the committee. "That amounts to about 256,000 crabs that are wasted annually."

The Northwest Straights Commission has received $4.6 million in stimulus money to retrieve derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Towns fighting back against gang violence run into civil liberties opposition

Are civil liberties at risk if we implement laws that might bring relief to communities terrorized by out-of-control gangs?

rita_hibbardwebA delegation of Yakima Valley residents appear willing to put those civil liberties on the line, telling lawmakers that they simply can’t take it anymore.

One high school senior told members of the House Judiciary Committee that she and her siblings have been forced to crawl around on the floor of their home to avoid gunshots aimed at a neighboring house, Beth Leah Ward reports in the Yakima Herald online.

"I don't think it's fair that I have to be afraid for my little brother and sister," Anna Aburto, a senior at Davis High School, told the House Judiciary Committee. "I'm afraid to go out in my neighborhood."

I recently wrote about this problem in Outlook, a small town in rural Yakima County, where one six-block area is home to as many as 150 gang members, where one in every five residents is said to be in a gang. The unincorporated town is only sporadically patrolled by Yakima County Sheriffs’ deputies, and has been plagued by shootings and assaults. There are few community resources for dealing with kids lured by gangs.

At least eight of two dozen homicides in Yakima County last year have been linked to gangs.