Orcas Island senator eyes a carbon tax to protect NW shellfish
by John Stang
Credit: Chris Wilson
State Sen. Kevin Ranker is considering an industrial carbon tax to curb carbon dioxide emissions in Washington and to deal with the increasing acidity of the state's waters.
Ranker, D-Orcas Island and and chairman of the Senate's Natural Resources Committee, is vetting the carbon tax and other potential measures among colleagues as he prepares a bill expected to be filed in January. The bill will be designed to decrease the acidity of sea water, which is weakening the shells of infant shellfish and killing them by the billions, according to a panel of scientists, policy makers and business interests appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
That panel, of which Ranker is a member, announced its fix-it recommendations Tuesday.
Details are still up in the air, but Ranker said he is exploring a concept used in British Columbia in which a tax on industrial carbon emissions would be levied in return for those businesses receiving comparable relief from other state government taxes or fees. "How far that goes depends on my colleagues — Republicans and Democrats," Ranker said.
In its Tuesday report, the panel reported that about 30 percent of Puget Sound's marine life is endangered by the increasing acidity. Currently Washington's shellfish industry brings in about $270 million annually and employs about 3,200 people in predominantly rural areas, where jobs are often hard to come by and losses could greatly hurt local economies. Growing carbon dioxide emissions are considered the leading cause of ocean acidification.
"The need to act now is becoming more and more apparent," Ranker said.
The Orcas Island senator is also looking at legislating nutrient loads seeping into Washington state bays and ocean from agriculture and septic tanks — a culprit targeted in the Tuesday report.
Ranker says he wants to create an ocean protection council to ensure that the many separate measures put into effect are coordinated, including distributing efforts to adequately address problems in both Puget Sound and along the Pacific coast. Ranker described the potential council strictly as a coordinating body and not as a new agency.
Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, is a member of both the Senate Natural Resources Committee and Gregoire's panel. He suggested Thursday that the committee explore the panel's recommendations to plant eelgrass in extra-acidic waters as a fix-it measure.
Meanwhile, the first signs of qualms about this effort have surfaced. State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, a member of the panel, wrote a letter outlining her concerns about the initiative, which she publicly released Wednesday. Smith described it as "support with concerns."
Smith's concerns are:
- Limited involvement by agricultural representatives. "They play a key role in nutrient management in our state and have expertise in achieving water quality standards through voluntary practices, … The panel did not have the benefit of their meaningful participation, and was left without a thorough understanding of current practices and reforms and a thoughtful review of the potential consequences to farmers and landowners that could impair agricultural viability in Washington state," Smith wrote.
- Not enough scientific data. Smith would like to see more data collected to fill information gaps before legislating more regulations.
- Not enough economic context. "The lack of context with regard to the enormous economic challenges we face in a fragile economy and the costs to our communities, employers and landowners of implementation. Significant strain resulting from hurried un-informed actions could have serious long-term consequences, particularly in our advanced manufacturing, agriculture and production sectors,"Smith wrote.