Tag: State Legislature
The new state budget proposed by the Republican-controlled Washington State Senate would eliminate funding for the Department of Ecology’s Bellingham field office. Lummi Nation has sent a letter to Senate leaders protesting the possible closure of that office.
The letter, signed by Lummi Natural Resources Director Merle Jefferson, says closure of the office “would have substantial negative impacts on the environment in Whatcom County.”
Jefferson’s letter states that the local office plays a vital role in many environmental issues that are vital to the tribe. Among those is the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal project proposed for Whatcom County’s Cherry Point.
“This proposed project will have regional impacts — removing an office of one of the regulatory agencies from the location most affected by the proposed projects sends a message to the affected parties,” Jefferson’s letter states.
The Ecology field office also plays an important role in dealing with tribal concerns about water quality, water rights and crude oil spills, Jefferson’s letter states.
Department of Ecology officials have warned that even if the office in Fairhaven is shut down, they have a lease that runs to 2017 that would require them to pay another $1.2 million between now and then even if they move out. Ecology also estimates moving expenses of $100,000, and monthly travel costs to this area from Bellevue headquarters that would exceed the current cost of operating the office.
I’ll be working on this story today, contacting local legislators for their views. I’ve also asked Mayor Kelli Linville and the Port of Bellingham’s Mike Stoner to weigh in.
It started out as a bill to protect employees and job applicants from having to disclose Facebook and other social media information to bosses and prospective bosses.
The original text of the bill declares that employers have no right to demand social media access from their workers and their job applicants.
But now, according to this report from AP, business groups have proposed an amendment that would allow employers to get workers’ social media information if they are investigating workplace misconduct, such as supplying trade secrets to competitors.
UPDATE: The amendment was introduced Tuesday, April 2 and withdrawn the next day. Here is AP’s followup report.
I’m not sure of the status of this amendment. The link to it on the Legislature’s page contains the word “withdrawn,” so perhaps this proposal is dead for now. Stay tuned.
“Under the amendment, employees would be present when their social network profiles are searched and whatever information found is kept confidential, unless it is relevant to a criminal investigation,” the AP says.
Hmm. It seems to me that if the purpose of these social media searches is detection of criminal behavior, a search warrant is required. Law enforcement agencies can’t get a search warrant without some evidence to back it up, and evidence of criminality that is improperly obtained by those agencies is not admissible in court, under many circumstances.
UPDATE CONTINUED: Apparently this type of concern prompted the amendment’s sponsor to pull it.
This is probably just another footnote to our society’s ongoing effort to figure out how, and how not, to use social media. But this kind of thing bears watching.
By John Stark
Backers of SB 5805 insist that the measure has nothing to do with the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier prop0sed for Whatcom County’s Cherry Point, but State Sen. Kevin Ranker is convinced otherwise.
Ranker, D-40th, says the backers are telling the truth when they say it had its origins in a desire to jump-start a long-stalled gravel-shipping pier project in Jefferson County. But that doesn’t change the fact that the bill’s language could also be applied to Gateway Pacific, Ranker said. He also suspects that many of the senators and lobbyists supporting the bill are well aware of that fact.
“This bill would remove Whatcom County from the decision-making process” on Gateway Pacific, Ranker said Thursday, Feb. 28. On Friday, Ranker filed several amendments meant to remove its potential impact on the coal terminal.
The bill, bill summary, bill digest and proposed amendments can all be viewed here.
State Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-32nd, and State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-23rd, joined in that effort.
Among other things, the amendments would make sure that local governments must consent to an expedited permit process for a project deemed to be of special economic significance. Ranker’s amendments take the further step of stripping the bill of language that would make “transportation” and “basic commodity transportation” projects eligible for express-lane service in the regulatory process.
Here is an earlier blog post in which backers of the bill downplay its significance for Gateway Pacific, while stopping short of an outright denial that it could affect that project.
Ranker said he thinks it likely that the Republican-controlled (sorta, kinda controlled) Senate will pass SB 5805, but it won’t get through the House, and even if it does, it won’t get past the veto pen of Gov. Jay Inslee.
The Senate may vote on the bill today–Friday March 1.
UPDATE: Ranker’s legislative assistant, Kendall Farley, said the bill and the proposed amendments may come before the full Senate next week.
UPDATE NUMERO DOS: Gateway Pacific spokesman Craig Cole said he checked with SSA’s lobbyist in Olympia and was told that the company is not playing a role in pushing for the bill’s passage.
“It’s not our deal,” Cole said.
Asked if the bill could benefit Gateway Pacific if passed, Cole said he had no idea.
By John Stark
In an opinion column published here today in print and online, State Rep. Vincent Buys, R-42nd, blames partisan politics for the likely death of a water rights bill he sponsored, H.B. 1438. But information available online indicates that the bill received very mixed reviews in committee, encountering misgivings and/or opposition from the Department of Ecology, Indian tribes, environmental groups and the Washington Cattlemen’s Association.
Water rights law is not for the faint of heart. The bill seems to be an attempt to help some local farmers get their current water use practices in compliance with the law. It is complicated.
Here’s the bill summary: “Creates a new, temporary process for certain water users located in the Nooksack watershed who have transitioned to a more efficient irrigation technology to change their place of water use with the Department of Ecology.”
The summary also notes that the original version the bill was applicable statewide, but a substitute version was limited to the Nooksack watershed.
Here is a news report on the bill from the Capital Press, an agriculture news service. According to this account, the farmers who would benefit have installed water conservation measures without doing all the required water rights paperwork with the Department of Ecology, and the bill would help them fix that retroactively.
The State Legislature’s online information contains this bill report prepared by House staff, summarizing the public testimony before the Natural Resources Committee.
To summarize the summary, the following people expressed concerns, but not outright opposition:
Maia Bellon, Department of Ecology; Jack Field, Washington Cattlemen’s Association; Bruce Wishart, Center for Environmental Law & Policy and Sierra Club; andMiguel Perez-Gibson, Colville Tribes.
Here’s how the report summarizes those concerns: “The bill would be easier to support as a pilot project since there is a need to ensure that other water users are not being negatively impacted. The Department (of Ecology) currently has a de facto changes policy that is designed to address just this issue. It is a bad precedent to provide amnesty for a water user who makes a change without following the proper legal steps.”
Opponents: Darcy Nonemacher, Washington Environmental Council; Dawn Vyvyan, Yakama
Nation and Puyallup Tribe; and Steve Robinson, Tulalip and Umatilla Tribes.
Their reasons for opposing the bill: “It is very complicated to account for senior water right holders and instream flow effects when one goes back in time and changes a decision point. This increase in confusion is a negative outcome. The bill is too vague to be predictable and the Department needs more of a role in reviewing the changes. People should not be able to implement a change in water uses without asking permission first.”
My footnote: The tribes–with good reason–consider themselves “senior water rights holders,” and have been in a long and largely fruitless negotiation with agriculture users over maintaining sufficient flow in local streams to maintain salmon populations. Although Whatcom County’s two tribes (Lummi and Nooksack) do not appear to have participated in the public hearing on Buys’s bill, it looks like other tribes are leery of any tinkering with state water rights laws while these issues are unresolved.
By John Stark
A Washington State Senate bill calling for expedited processing of permits for–among other things–”basic commodity transportation” is getting a lot of attention from opponents of the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export pier proposed for Cherry Point.
The bill, SB 5805, was introduced Feb. 15, 2013 and passed along to the Rules Committee after a perfunctory Feb. 21 hearing in the Trade and Economic Committee. The bill comes up at 30:24 in the TVW video. Committee members make passing reference to coal projects and constituent concerns about it, but there is no definitive discussion of whether the bill would have any impact on those projects.
The bill modifies language in existing law for expediting the permit process in ways that would seem to apply to Gateway Pacific–especially the insertion of new language that would make “basic commodity transportation” facilities eligible for the fast-track.
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-44th, is a co-sponsor of 5805. Hobbs told me that 5805 has been introduced in previous sessions as part of an effort to get approval for a “pit to pier” gravel shipping terminal in Jefferson County that has beern simmering for many years. Here is some info on that project on the Jefferson County website; here is a critical view of it from a citizens’ organization, the Hood Canal Coalition. (Nobody mentioned this project during the committee hearing, unless I missed it.)
“Coal was not in mind when this bill was drafted,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs endorsed the Gateway Pacific proposal before his 2012 race for a 1st District House seat, in which he garnered 7 percent of the vote in the primary. He said he didn’t think SB 5805 would have any effect on Gateway Pacific.
Josh Swanson, a lobbyist for the International Union of Operating Engineers, also supports both 5805 and Gateway Pacific. Like Hobbs, he said the two are not related; 5805 is about gravel shipments in Jefferson County, and backers of the Jefferson County project have been trying to get this legislation passed for many years.
Swanson said he wasn’t sure if 5805 could also benefit Gateway Pacific if it becomes law, and he understands why Gateway Pacific opponents are worried that it might.
“I certainly think the argument could be made,” Swanson said. “I understand that.”
Meanwhile, Gateway Pacific opponents are sounding the alarm on Facebook, urging people to contact legislators to voice their opposition to 5805.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, responded with a Facebook post of his own:
“Thanks to each of you who have written to me here on FB and through my office regarding Senate Bill 5805 that could allow permit streamlining of large scale projects such as the Coal Export Facility at Cherry Point or the Pit to Pier project.
“Know that I am strongly opposed to the bill and am helping lead the opposition here in the Senate. Make no mistake… This is a bad bill and each of us needs to do anything in our power to make sure that it never gets to the Governor’s desk.
“I will continue to work tirelessly to oppose this bill.”
I have contacted Ranker seeking additional comment.
UPDATE: Mike Ennis, government affairs director for the Association of Washington Business, also said that Gateway Pacific was not on the minds of those who drafted 5805, and he scoffed at the notion that it might benefit the coal terminal.
“I think it’s just scare tactics by the enviros,” Ennis said.
But when he was asked if Gateway Pacific could benefit from the bill if it becomes law, Ennis stopped short of a flat denial.
“I don’t think they could, but that’s as far as I’ll go,” Ennis said.
The Association of Washington Business is also on record in support of Gateway Pacific.
By John Stark
State Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine, has introduced legislation that would make it a felony for state or local officials to cooperate with the U.S. armed forces in the investigation or detention of citizens and legal residents.
(Overstreet is also one of four sponsors of H.B. 1111, which pushes the state to sell off its lands “not being actively used for forestry.” But it doesn’t stop there: It also authorizes the state to acquire “forested” federal lands by condemnation, and then sell them to the highest bidder. Would that include national parks? The bill doesn’t say yes and it doesn’t say no. Overstreet has not responded to requests for comment on this bill, and in any event it appears dead.
Even if the state were to enact such a bill, University of Washington law professor Robert Anderson says it would not be effective in getting control of federal lands. During the Sagebrush Rebellion years, Nevada did pass a similar law attempting to wrest control of federal holdings within that state, but the law was struck down by the federal courts. There is no legal foundation for state confiscation of federal lands, Anderson said.)
But back to the detention bill, H.B. 1581. It got a hearing before a House committee Thursday, Feb. 21, but appears unlikely to come to a vote, according to a press release from House Republicans. Here is the text of the bill, which was co-sponsored by State Rep. Vincent Buys, R-Lynden, and several others. Here is a summary.
In the press release, Overstreet says the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act violates the right to due process.
“Washingtonians are guaranteed the right of due process in both the U.S. and Washington State Constitutions,” Overstreet said. “Upon signing the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the President tacitly acknowledged that he now has the ability to deny this right through indefinite detention, but in his signing statement promised us he will not exercise it. The U.S. Congress and President have overstepped their constitutional authority. The Washington State Preservation of Liberty Act seeks to preserve the rights of Washingtonians so brazenly tossed aside by Washington D.C.”
The National Defense Authorization Act got bipartisan supp0rt when it was passed by Congress, according to this tally by Project VoteSmart. But in recent months, there has also been bipartisan concern about encroachment on civil liberties in the fight against terrorists, although that concern is focused more on drone strikes than on detention policies.
By John Stark
State Rep. Jeff Morris, D-40th, has introduced legislation that he says would finance construction of a new state ferry by changing state policy on vehicle tab fees.
If you’re in the habit of getting your new vehicle tabs via the Whatcom County Auditor’s office, either online or in person, Morris’s H.B. 1129 will raise your renewal cost by $5 a year.
Here’s the deal: Under current law, private businesses that offer vehicle tab renewal processing are entitled to add a $5 service charge to your cost, and the businesses get to keep that money. No such fee is charged at the Auditor’s office here or elsewhere in the state.
But if the county auditors also tack on a $5 fee and forward that money to the state, the added revenue could amount to $15.6 million per biennium for the state’s Capital Vessel Replacement account, Morris says.
The state has already funded construction of two new ferries. Morris says the added license tab money would enable the state to build a third one. He argues that building the third boat now, when Vigor Shipyards already is mobilized to build two other ones, would be cheaper than building the third one later.
Legislative staffer Quinn Majeski said it would be up to the Washington Department of Transportation to decide where the third ferry is most needed.
Read the full text of the bill by clicking here.
Here’s the press release from Morris:
OLYMPIA – A new proposal by Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, would provide funding for the construction of a third new ferry for the Washington Department of Transportation by making a required fee for small businesses applicable to government-run operations as well.
“22 million people ride the Washington Ferry System each year, and many of them live in the 40th legislative district. We cannot continue relying on 60 year old boats to get people to and from work and school every day,” stated Rep. Morris.
Morris’s legislation, HB 1129, would match the five dollar vehicle licensing fee currently being paid by small business owners with a five dollar fee on licenses issued by county auditors, generating roughly $15.6 million per biennium. The state would then bond against that revenue stream, supporting a fund of about $110 million that would go towards constructing a third 144-car ferry.
The bills would also ensure that the public and private sectors are treated equally in the vehicle licensing industry. Right now the five dollar fee only applies to businesses, while county auditors – who can also issue vehicle licenses – are exempt.
“The discrepancy in fees between what customers pay at our shops and what they pay the at auditors’ offices undercuts the private market,” said Charlene Winzler, President of the Washington Association of Vehicle Subagents. “This legislation would help small businesses across Washington, equalize government and small business, and provide money for an important state service.”
The state has already budgeted money to contract with Vigor Shipyards for the construction of two new ferries, with the option to construct up to two additional boats. This bill would provide the funding to build a much needed third ferry while saving taxpayers from paying additional startup costs down the road.
“It’s an issue of economies of scale. There are a lot of upfront costs associated with setting up the manufacturing line and processes that need to be ironed out. We know a number of our ferries will need to be replaced in the coming years; let’s not pay those upfront costs twice,” said Morris.
By John Stark
State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-42nd, has announced “New Energy Fridays” to focus his legislative committe’s attention on energy issues one day each week.
Here’s the press release from Ericksen’s office:
OLYMPIA…Sen. Doug Ericksen, Majority Coalition Caucus chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, today announced the committee will spend each of its Friday meetings on fresh ideas in the field of energy.
“Energy policy is directly linked to job creation, our environment and the economy. I get it, and that’s why I’m devoting each Friday this session to examining exciting new energy policies and technologies,” said Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
“While we examine what works and what doesn’t in the world of energy, our emphasis will remain squarely on three goals: reducing energy costs, encouraging new technologies and creating energy-sector jobs.”
Ericksen said he’s taking a collaborative approach and encourages anyone with an interest in energy technology to follow the committee on television through TVW or online at www.tvw.org. He also asked people share their ideas for topics the committee should consider.
“It’s important to me that we keep an open mind and consider ideas from all areas of the spectrum, with a focus on an idea’s merit rather than its political pedigree,” Ericksen continued. “Too often government tries to get into the business of picking winners and losers. I want to see a level playing field in energy policy where all technologies are put in a position to succeed.
“We’ll be looking at fresh approaches but by no means will we be turning our back on proven energy sources. Above all, Washington has to maintain its low power costs and reliable energy grid. These are competitive advantages that help drive our state’s high quality of life and attract businesses to our region.”
End press release
Republican candidates at the Wednesday, July 18 Whatcom County Tea Party forum joined in on the widespread criticism of a quote from President Barack Obama that is being interpreted as belittling the contributions of American business people.
The Obama quote that is getting all the attention runs like this: “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Republicans are interpreting this comment to mean, “You did little or nothing to build your own business,” which would certainly be an absurd thing for the President to say.
John Swapp, business owner and Republican challenger to State Sen. Kevin Ranker in the 40th District, observed: “I didn’t have any help from the government. The government was in my way most of the time.”
To me, Obama’s comment makes a bit more sense when you see it in context. Here’s a longer excerpt reported by the Washington Post:
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. ( emphasis added.) Somebody else made that happen.”
Not one of Obama’s more eloquent moments, to be sure. But when you look at the offending sentence, it doesn’t sound as silly. It looks like ”You didn’t build that” is supposed to mean, “The government, not you, built the roads and bridges that enable your business to exist.”
Swapp, at least, seemed aware of the full context.
“Yeah, I drive over a lot of roads and bridges, but so do a lot of people,” he said. He went on to observe that the business owners generate more than their share of the tax revenues that build those roads and bridges.
Matt Krogh, Democratic challenger to State Rep. Vincent Buys in the 42nd District, also referred to the wider context of Obama’s remark, attributing his own success in life to public school teachers as well as roads and bridges.
“The success that I have in life I owe to a lot of other people and I’m glad of it,” Krogh said.
State Sen. Mike Baumgartner, a Spokane Republican, is challenging U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell for a U.S. Senate seat, touting an extensive resume of overseas experience that seems to make him a natural for the Foreign Affairs Committee if he pulls off the upset of the century and thwarts Cantwell’s bid for a third term.
His international experiences are so extensive, in fact, that I’m not going to try to summarize them here. If you want the details, read them on Baumgartner’s website.
Suffice to say that since he was 12, Baumgartner has visited 70 countries. Most recently, he has served with the State Department as an economics officer in Iraq, and as an advisor with a private contractor that worked with U.S. armed forces on opium eradication in Afghanistan.
“The U.S. Senate is really the foreign policy advisory board for the country,” Baumgartner said in a recent interview.
As he sees it, too few Senators are qualified for that role.
His experiences have made him skeptical of using American troops for “nation-building” in Afghanistan. He called nation-building “not a realistic goal.”
He described U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as “confused,” and added, “I think we have too many troops in Afghanistan right now.”
America’s leaders have insulated the country from the cost of the wars, beginning with George W. Bush, Baumgartner said. He faulted Bush for “not taking the country to war,” cutting taxes and urging Americans to go on doing what they were doing while the troops did the fighting. The Bush administration was guilty of a “deficits don’t matter” attitude in cutting taxes and waging war at the same time.
Americans should have been asked to shoulder the financial burden, “even if he (Bush) had just put a penny on the gas tax to remind folks,” Baumgartner said.
But he hastened to add that he is not advocating tax increases today.
Asked if he favors military intervention to shut down Iran’s nuclear program, Baumgartner was skeptical.
“The reality with Iran is that we have a lot of bad options,” he said. “If something’s going to be done, it has to have more chance of success than failure.”
Although — like Barack Obama — he believes that intervention should not be ruled out, he also observed that those who are calling for a U.S. military strike may not have thought it through.
“Presidential candidates have a natural impetus to look tough on these things,” Baumgartner said.
On other issues, he portrayed himself as a friend of higher education in Olympia who wants to take that issue to the U.S. Senate.
In the State Legislature, Baumgartner said he has advocated the creation of dedicated funds to support the university and college system. He suggests a law that would give higher education one cent of the sales tax collected on each dollar.
In the nation’s capital, Baumgartner said he would advocate for strong federal financial support for higher education. He says the U.S. college and university system has been a traditional source of strength for our economy.
“Why we would walk away from that system now is beyond me,” he said.
On energy issues, Baumgartner sounds a bit more like a Republican. He favors more domestic production of petroleum, and wants to see the XL Pipeline built to carry Canadian tar sands oil to U.S. refineries.
He pronounces federal spending unsustainable, and pledges to make reform of entitlement programs a top priority if he is elected.
He believes in a means test for Social Security benefits, meaning that wealthy retirees would get less. He also favors an eventual rollback of the eligibility age for benefits, but postponing that long enough to avoid breaking promises to those now nearing retirement.
Asked if that would be fair to the millions of workers whose jobs involve physical labor, Baumgartner agreed that was a legitimate issue, and there should be a safety net for those who are no longer physically able to continue working.
State Rep Jeff Morris has taken issue with last week’s post about his plans for funding a new Center for Marine Innovation.
Via a message on Facebook, Morris said he is changing the language in HB 2444 to remove the funding source he originally proposed: $150,000 from a state recreation resources account funded with taxes on boat fuel. Boaters say that money is supposed to pay for boat launches and similar facilities.
He said his original funding proposal for the center was no more than a “placeholder” to get the legislative process started.
Via email, State Rep. Jason Overstreet has provided some additional information on the Gold and Silver Legal Tender Act that he is sponsoring in this session of the State Legislature.
Here is Overstreet’s email:
“The Gold and Silver Legal Tender Act was proposed to give citizens of the state of Washington access, if they so choose, to sound money in accordance with the U.S. Constitution’s Article I, Section 10. Section I of the Act states that “The legislature intends to provide a choice…and does not intend to compel a person to tender or accept gold or silver.” Section 5 also states that “The use of gold and silver is strictly voluntary…”.
“The Act recognizes Federal, domestic and foreign specie gold and silver coin, the fair market value of which is to be established using “the common standard of the dollar as provided for in the U.S. Constitution.” The Coinage Act of 1792 defined the dollar as 371.25 grains (troy) for fine silver. “The state treasurer must post daily the value of fine silver and the proration to gold per the average closing prices…”.
“To speak to your question: “Does the Act propose that the state mint its own gold and silver coins?” The Act does not propose that the state would mint its own gold and silver coins, rather that it “…provide its citizens with gold and silver coins as an alternative currency.” An amendment has been prepared to clarify that the Act would “allow its citizens to use” gold and silver coins.
“Most people know intuitively that their purchasing power is diminishing, but don’t know why. With our fiat paper Federal Reserve note currency, every time the Federal Reserve prints another note, the value of existing notes is debased, ultimately driving prices higher and higher. Past Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan understood well the implications and reasoning behind leaving the gold standard, writing an amazing primer on why governments choose to leave the gold standard. The work is titled: “Gold and Economic Prosperity”.
“George Washington said it best: ‘Paper money has had the effect in your state that it will ever have, to ruin commerce, oppress the honest, and open the door to every species of fraud and injustice.’”
End Overstreet email.
Apparently the law is being amended to change that language about “providing” citizens with coins. I’m still not 100 percent clear on that, and I’ve asked Overstreet for further clarification if possible.
Washington state boaters are bombarding State Rep. Jeff Morris and State Sen. Kevin Ranker with complaints, after the two men unveiled plans to use taxes and fees on boaters to help pay for a proposed new Center for Marine Innovation.
Morris’s plan, HB 2444, would shift $150,000 from the Recreation Resources Account that gets money from boaters’ fuel taxes. Those taxes would not be raised. But Recreational Boaters of Washington is asking members to express their opposition to the measure, because as they see it the money is supposed to be used for boating facilities, such as launch ramps.
Morris said he has heard their complaints, but he thinks that the shift is a reasonable use for a small part of the money from the $17 million fund.
He said the proposed new center should benefit boaters. Among other things, it will be charged with finding solutions to the ethanol fuel headache that boaters often complain about. Ethanol added to gasoline can cause problems in marine engines because it attracts water, Morris said. Despite that, even the gasoline sold at marine fueling stations often contains enough ethanol to cause problems for some boaters.
The new center would also help to focus the state’s ongoing efforts to support the marine trades industry that is an important job-creator in northwest Washington, Morris said.
Ranker’s bill, SB 6264, takes a different approach. His bill would add an additional $1 to the cost of each boat registration.
“I know they (boaters) are unhappy with Kevin’s funding source and they are unhappy with mine,” Morris said.
The proposed state law that would extend Bellingham-style plastic shopping bag prohibition from the 49th parallel to the banks of the Columbia has been labeled “DOA” on the blog run by Political Junkie Riley Sweeney, via his “Legislative Junkie” Olympia correspondent.
(If Sweeney Legislative Junkie is wrong and the state bill does become law, the impact on Bellingham would apparently be minimal, since the state law incorporates all the major features of the Bellingham ordinance. That ordinance takes effect on Aug. 1, 2012.)
Sweeney Legislative Junkie also notes that if past experience is any indication, the plastic bag industry would likely spend the money to mount a repeal initiative if the measure passes. The industry is already firing PR salvos at the proposed state legislation–which enjoys backing from major retailers.
Environmentalists want to protect the whales from plastic bags. Retailers want to protect themselves from a mosaic of local bag ordinances.
Here’s some industry rebuttal that hit my inbox Thursday, Jan. 12. It was provided by a PR firm working for Hilex Poly, a major plastic bag manufacturer.
Begin press release:
How many Washington jobs will be at risk if we ban plastic bags?
More than 1,000 Washingtonians are employed by plastic bag manufacturing, distributing and recycling companies across the state.
What are U.S. plastic bags made of? What are reusables made of?
American-made plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and made from natural gas. Reusable bags, on the other hand, are made overseas using foreign oil.
Will banning plastic bags increase use of other plastics?
Nine out of ten people say they reuse plastic bags for every day uses. Banning them will push consumers to buy heavier gauge plastic bags to replace them.
What’s the carbon footprint of plastic bags vs. paper or reusables?
2,000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds; 2,000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. Paper takes up more space in landfills and uses more energy and water to produce and transport. Plastic bags create 80 percent less waste. Reusables are manufactured overseas and are imported.
Can reusable bags be recycled?
No. Reusable bags are not recyclable.
How many heavy-plastic reusable bags are imported to the U.S. each year?
Over 500 million are imported annually from countries like China. New York Magazine wrote “reusable shopping bags have proliferated so greatly that ecoactivists are worried about surplus sacks winding up in landfills.” (12/4/11)
How many times does a cloth reusable bag need to be used to be a ‘greener’ option than plastic?
393 times, according to a U.K. government study.
Why not increase recycling instead?
Recycling addresses all forms of plastic films from newspaper and dry cleaning wraps to toilet paper packaging. The U.S. EPA reports that 14.1 percent of bags, sacks and wraps are recycled, a jump of 24 percent alone between 2009 and 2010. Recycling is working and creating green jobs. There will be no market to recycle these films if a ban is passed.
What percentage of litter is made up of plastic bags?
Various litter studies have consistently shown that plastic bags make up only one to two percent of all litter. Singling out one product will not address the greater issue of litter.
Are plastics bags the most abundant form of litter in the marine environment?
NOAA’s Fifth International Marine Debris Conference last year and its draft of the conference’s Honolulu Strategy highlights that the most pressing concern is educating people to reduce derelict fishing gear and general solid waste – not specific products such as plastic bags.
Learn more: www.bagtheban.com
(End press release)
Mark Daniels, Hilex Poly’s vice president of sustainability and environmental policy, has already testify before the Washington Senate Committee on Environment about the issue.
Gov. Chris Gregoire is asking state lawmakers to approve a $1.50-per-barrel charge on oil products from Washington state refineries, to raise billions for operation and maintenance of the state transportation system.
At the Tacoma News-Tribune, Jordan Schrader has a report.
Much of the state’s transportation budget now comes from taxes on gasoline at the pump. Any increase in that tax is immediately visible to state residents. By adding a charge on fuel at the refinery, instead of raising the taxes on gasoline, the impact on the taxpayer would be far less visible. But we can only assume that the money collected at the refinery will be factored into the price we pay at the pump.
(Still to be determined is whether Gregoire’s proposed revenue-raiser is legally a “tax” or a “fee.” If it is a “fee,” it can be imposed by a simple majority of legislators. Schrader explains that.)
The state is already taxing crude oil products (and other potential pollutants) in the state, in order to fund a voter-mandated toxic cleanup program that the Port of Bellingham is tapping to help clean up the tainted pulp mill site on the waterfront. (The state is also tapping that money for other purposes to cover its revenue shortfalls, but that’s another topic. Or is it?)
What do you think? Is it better for the state to raise transportation money at the pump, or at the refinery?
As much as half the output from state refineries (including two in Whatcom County) is sold outside the state. People who buy Washington-origin gasoline without ever using the Washington state transportation system will be the biggest losers, I suppose.
But Bill Kidd, spokesman for the BP Cherry Point refinery in Whatcom County, argues that this state’s refiners are competing for market share outside the state, and competitive pressures may keep them from passing the full cost of any new state charges on to the rest of us.
“Historically, we have not opposed gas taxes at the pump,” Kidd said. “I don’t see any industry clamoring to have a huge new tax put on them that they may not be able to pass along.”
Kidd estimated that Gregoire’s proposal would cost BP about $100 million per year.
BP reported $5 billion in net income in the 3rd quarter of 2011. The company is investing $400 million in a refinery upgrade here to enable the production of lower-sulfur diesel fuel, as the law requires.
I have also contacted spokesmen for the ConocoPhillips refinery, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association, for their viewpoint. What’s yours?