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An environmental scorecard from Olympia

A major bill to allow more transfers of development rights from rural land to dense areas fares well, as does the phase-out of coal plants. But the effort to impose a tax on oil products for helping with stormwater projects around Puget Sound got little traction.

Puget Sound

Puget Sound National Marine Sanctuary

Gene Duvernoy, president of the Cascade Land Conservancy. (CLC)

Gene Duvernoy, president of the Cascade Land Conservancy. (CLC) None

No repo men have towed away the capitol dome — yet — but is there any other good news from Olympia? Well, yes. Some good bills that didn't require state dollars fared okay. Although the scorecard is mixed, environmental legislation has done better than one might have supposed.

Not least, at the Cascade Land Conservancy's annual breakfast on May 12, Gov. Chris Gregoire will sign the Landscape Conservation and Local Infrastructure Program into law. The legislation, pushed by the CLC, will permit the trading of development rights between rural areas and cities in King, Pierce. and Snohomish counties, something that is already allowed, albeit not frequently done. More significantly, the new law will also let the cities finance infrastructure for new residents in development-rights-receiving areas by issuing bonds against the anticipated rise in property taxes. More about this important measure below.

The CLC's bill was not part of this year's "Green Agenda," the four-item Olympia to-do-list pushed by the Environmental Priorities Coaltion. The Environmental Priorities Coalition had hoped to: pass the 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act, which would charge oil refiners (and others) a fee on the sale of petroleum and other hazardous substances to pay for stormwater projects on the shores of Puget Sound and other water bodies, including the Columbia and Spokane rivers; phase out coal burning at TransAlta's Centralia power plant; limit the use of phosphates in lawn fertilizers; and keep environmental programs from getting hacked too badly by state budget cutters. At this point, the Coalition has won two, has almost certainly lost another, and so far has no decision on the fourth.

Anti-coal and anti-phosphate bills were passed during the regular session. The latter won't ban the sale of phosphates. But if you go into your local garden supply store and look for lawn fertilizer, you won't find anything that contains phosphates on the shelves. You'll have to ask for it. Because most people don't need phosphorous unless they're putting in new lawns — and, in fact, most people don't even know whether or not a fertilizer contains phosphorous — this shouldn't impose a big hardship on anyone. Farmers, who do know what's in their fertilizers, won't have to change a thing.

The coal phase-out bill isn't quite what the Environmental Priorities Coalition had origiinally hoped. The Coalition's original proposal called for complete phase-out by the end of 2015. A couple of years ago, the governor had told the Department of Ecology to negotiate an end to coal burning at the Centralia plant by 2025. Some people saw the Coalition's position as a direct affront to her. Under compromise legislation worked out by the governor's office, the enviros, and TransAlta, one of TransAlta's two big Centralia boilers will shut down by the end of 2020, the other by the end of 2025. Pollution-control equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions — of which the TransAlta plant is the state's leading source — will be in place by the start of 2013. The company will contribute $30 million for local economic development, in an effort to replace jobs and income lost when the coal operation shuts down.

Was the slower timetable a disappointment? "We found a way to make this work for everyone," says Craig Benjamin of the Environmental Priorities Coaltion. The economic development component was "really what built the bridge" to labor and other groups. He says the resulting law represents "a huge success."

And in fact, timing aside, it marks a turning point: After 2025, no one will burn coal to generate power in Washington any more. In fact, with Oregon's Boardman coal plant due to shut down in 2020, no one will burn coal in the Northwest. (That depends on how you define the Northwest, of course: There is no plan to stop burning coal in Montana.)

The bill imposing an oil fee for stormwater looks like it's going down for the third time. Two years ago, a similar bill passed the House but not the Senate. Last year, one passed both chambers but died in the special session under a major industry lobbying blitz. The special session came on the heels of the Anacortes refinery explosion that killed six workers, an event that inexplicably seemed to increase legislative sympathy for oil companies. Last year's legislation would have imposed a "tax" on petroleum and other hazardous substances. This year, after the passage of Tim Eyman's Initiative 1053, a new tax would require two-thirds votes of both houses, so the proposal has morphed into a "fee." By any name, it has gained remarkably little traction.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 9, 4:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Myth:
"Stormwater projects involve a lot of heavy construction — think excavation, concrete pours, large-diameter pipes — so they would generate construction-industry jobs. Not surprisingly, some labor unions have supported the idea. Stormwater projects also cost a lot of money that city and county governments, which are legally obligated to undertake them, don't have."

This myth needs to be debunked. Targeting stormwater pollution at the source requires NO construction, NO heavy machinery, NO government intervention and provides jobs to regular folks, and most importantly,,removes pollution before reaching creeks, streams, rivers and Puget Sound.

For every unionized government employee in stormwater you could have purchased 800 stormwater filters every year and the maintenance of those 800 filters. Each stormwater filter on average removes approximately 40 pounds of oily sludge that otherwise would have entered our environment.
With 800 filters removing 40 pounds of crap every month equals to 32,000 pounds of pollution not going into our waterways.

Imagine doing this with no construction, no unions, no government intervention. Only bad part about it is there ISN'T ANYMORE UNACCOUNTABLE government jobs created so it will never work.

salmonjim

Posted Mon, May 9, 5:55 a.m. Inappropriate

"....the new law will also let the cities finance infrastructure for new residents in development-rights-receiving areas by issuing bonds against the anticipated rise in property taxes."

Hold on to your wallets when you hear a phrase like "anticipated rise in property taxes."

Such a judgment is a business decision and local government elected officials and staff do not have the knowledge to make good ones.

If you liked sub-prime lending you'll love cities financing infrastructure in "anticipated rise in property taxes."

Oh, but it's different this time.

Posted Mon, May 9, 7 a.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Sucher is absolutely right, Everybody realizes that those bonds will still be backed by the General Funds of all of these communites should the anticipated rise in property values not materialze.

Tell the CLC to quit pushing this Transfer of Developement Rights Agenda. Every session they just want a little more, one more step toward making it mandatory.

Cameron

Posted Mon, May 9, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

True or False, Daniel:

1. Stormwater runoff dumps the equivalent of 1.5 Exxon Valdez' worth of oil, annually, into Puget Sound.

2. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is misreporting data on tribal fisheries. The cover-up is orchestrated via the Governor's Office of Indian Affairs.

BlueLight

Posted Mon, May 9, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

FALSE - There was recently a story on KUOW (Weekend, I think) discussing this topic. Original DOE estimates were something along the lines of an Exxon Valdez spill. Since they started monitoring runoff into the Puget Sound they have discovered the levels to by much, much lower than their original estimates.

Don't get me wrong, I want to clean up the Sound. But, we need to all get our facts straight in order to have a intelligent conversation about the issue.

Posted Mon, May 9, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Correct. They used the inflated numbers (1,000 x) to sell regulation and push for tax/fee increases.

Do you have an answer for #2?

BlueLight

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