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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Environmental Priorities Bills Hearings and Coalition

Priorities Bills

This past Wednesday I had a fascinating afternoon attending an important hearing in Olympia
about the Clean Water Bill before the Legislature. This Bill is designed to provide a dedicated funding source for retrofitting stormwater infrastructure in our cities and counties. It would come from a tax on hazardous substances such as oil and fertilizers that come into our state.

These substances cause tremendous deleterious impacts to our streams, lakes and especially Puget Sound. The pollution is washed into our waterways by the frequent rainfall here which is washed into them from older drainage systems on roads, roofs and parking lots. The Bill is designed to ensure that the sources of pollution pay for the damage caused by utilizing the authority of the Model Toxics Control Act. It will provide approximately $200 million in funding for cleanups and retrofitting roads and stormwater infrastructure.

The Environmental Priorities Coalition (a group of 25 organizations to work on specific goals at the State House, such as Audubon, People for Puget Sound, Wash Environmental Council and Wash Conservation Voters) has selected this bill as vitally important this year.

Our Cities, Towns and Communities are facing difficult budget situations and yet they have obligations from Federal and State agencies to fix these environmental problems. So these municipalities need help to meet their responsibilities and this costs a lot, much more than our homeowners and small businesses can be reasonably expected to pay through property taxes or utility fees. The health of people and communities depend on clean water, and the health of our wildlife does too. So in order to really make an impact on cleaning up Puget Sound this Bill is crucial.

I had the opportunity to testify at the Capital Budget Committee and express my support. I'm glad to say that the Bill, HB 3181 was passed this week out of committee. A companion Bill will now be heard in the Senate this next week as "companion Bill" SB 6851. I was glad to see the incredible coalition that is supporting this legislation including, labor, Association of Washington Cities (AWC), Building Construction and Trades, and many, many others.

One more good reason to support these bills is that it will bring about new Green Jobs and economic development by retrofitting our public works infrastructure and make good development that really IMPROVES water quality, possible. I was pleased to participate in this process. You can have an impact too by contacting your Senator and Representatives. Please thank them for their support too!

Below is an article from the Seattle Times with more details.

Hope you will contact your Senator to ask them to support this important Bill. Also check the Environmental Priorities site to see who's supporting this bill.

Photo credit - Janet Way

Major polluter tax bills introduced in Olympia

Posted by Jim Brunner

OLYMPIA -- The big environmental bill of the legislative session -- a proposal to triple the tax on oil, pesticides and other chemicals and devote the money to storm water cleanup -- was formally introduced today in the state House and Senate.

House Bill 3181 (and Senate Bill 6851) would triple the "hazardous substances" tax created by a 1988 voter initiative.

That could raise as much as $250 million a year to clean up polluted storm water that has been cited as the leading threat to the health of Puget Sound and other waterways.

But as a carrot for lawmakers, the bills would deposit much of the new tax money in the state general fund over the next few years. That could help plug ongoing budget shortfalls.

In future years, more and more of the cash would be devoted to storm water cleanup.

The bills already have significant support among majority Democrats, with 33 cosponsors in the state House, and 24 in the state Senate.

This is sure to set up a big fight with the oil industry, which pays most of the current tax at its five refineries in Washington. Industry lobbyists have argued the tax will only show up at the gas pump for ordinary consumers.

Last year, the oil industry successfully fended off a similar proposal, which it labeled a "$1 Billion Hidden Gas Tax."

Asked about the tax this morning, Gov. Chris Gregoire sounded a supportive note and rejected the suggestion that the tax would necessarily lead to higher gas prices.

"Let's be honest, a (hazardous substances) tax has been in place since what, the 80s, and there has been no increase since the 80s. And these are oil companies that are making lots of profits so for us to assume that we pay for it at the gas pump -- I don't think is there," Gregoire said at her regular Monday news briefing.

"If we want to get Puget Sound cleaned up, we can't sit there and hope and pray it happens some day. We are going to have to take action to get something done."

Gregoire said she'll decide whether she can support the proposal -- and any other tax plans -- after the state gets its updated revenue and caseload forecasts in the coming week.

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