Tag: Washington state
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is focused on finding fixes for the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon.
“I spoke this morning with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood,” Larsen said in a press release. ” Secretary LaHood confirmed that the Department of Transportation has emergency funds available to aid repairs. The Department of Transportation has established an interagency task force to expedite the permitting process for the bridge repair.”
Larsen said he has also reached out to the Republican who heads a key House committee:
“I updated House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) on the situation in Skagit County. I appreciate his commitment to help in any way that he can,” Larsen said.
“Members of my staff have been at the scene since last night and are working from the Emergency Operations Center in Mount Vernon. My office is coordinating with local, state and federal officials as repairs are planned and executed.”
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, said she too has staffers at the scene and expects to visit the area herself.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene and her staff are touting her influence on a pending agriculture bill as evidence of the freshman Democrat’s effectiveness in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
DelBene serves on the House Agriculture Committee, and her office reports that U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the committee chairman, has approved job-training funds for food stamp recipients in a wide-ranging agriculture bill, at DelBene’s urging.
“After months of hard work, I’m pleased that the Farm Bill introduced by Chairman Lucas today includes my proposal to help struggling families receive the training and education they need to get a good job. It’s a good example of what can get done if folks are willing to sit down and work together,” DelBene said in a press release.
DelBene staffer Viet Shelton explained that the bill would provide $30 million in funding to allow some other states to try to duplicate the success of a Washington state job training program for food aid recipients. About 60 percent of those who participate in the job training program are no longer in need of food aid within two years, Shelton said.
As Shelton explained it, this is a pilot program, meaning that if the evidence indicates the $30 million has been well-spent, getting people off public assistance, it could be expanded further.
The full Agriculture Committee has yet to vote on the bill, but that vote could occur in the next day or two, Shelton said.
DelBene, of Medina, represents the 1st District, redrawn in 2012 to include much of Whatcom County.
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.
Chinese demand for Powder River Basin coal has been the motivator for the Gateway Pacific Terminal proposal and other Northwest coal export plans, but recent reports indicate that Chinese demand may be waning.
Here’s one such report from Platts. It is especially interesting because the report is based on analysis from Goldman Sachs, the financial firm that owns a big share of Carrix, parent firm of SSA Marine of Seattle, which hopes to build Gateway Pacific at Whatcom County’s Cherry Point.
(Hat tip to Terry Wechsler for calling attention to this one via Facebook)
Reports about declining Chinese coal demand have been widely circulated in recent days among Gateway Pacific opponents. Is SSA Marine ignorant of these reports? I doubt it. Are they too stubborn to admit there is no economic rationale for their project? I doubt that too.
Even if the regulatory approval process goes smoothly for Gateway Pacific — and there is not much evidence that it will –it would be years before the terminal could ship its first lump of coal.
I don’t pretend to know much, but I do know this: Nobody knows much about the market for any commodity four or five years from now. Experts can study data and make projections and estimates, but those estimates could be way off.
A few years ago I attended an energy issues seminar for journalists, in Washington D.C. The Department of Energy’s analysts assured us that the price of crude oil, then in the midst of a worrisome spike, would recede and stabilize at around $55 for several years. This was the expert consensus. It turned out to be laughably wrong.
Carrix and BNSF Railway Co. are big outfits with plenty of money. They have no problem spending millions on a multi-year permit process in the hope of having permits in hand when and if there is a market opportunity for coal, or something else, in four to six years. If they do get their permits (and I’m not saying they will) they won’t build the thing if there is no market for it to serve.
Here’s a local example: In the wake of the 2000-2001 West Coast electric power crisis, BP Cherry Point announced plans for a 720-megawatt natural gas-fired generating plant to provide a secure power source for the refinery and a sizeable amount of surplus power that could be sold in a then-lucrative wholesale market. The price tag was announced at $500 million–in the same league as Gateway Pacific.
After three and a half years of regulatory scrutiny, the plant got final approval in late 2004. The start of contruction was postponed. The projected size of the plant was scaled back a bit. Then BP dropped the plans completely. Market conditions had changed.
During the same time period when the BP power plant was in the works, there was a lot of talk about building terminals to import natural gas. At that same energy conference in DC, the experts earnestly assured us that LNG importing was going to be the next big thing. We even got a tour of an existing import terminal in Maryland. They poured some LNG into a thing like a garbage can lid and set it on fire to show us it would not blow up. (We all knew that under the right conditions, it WOULD blow up, and HAD blown up, but we let the corporate communications folks have their fun.)
Today, energy and shipping companies are busy prospecting for places to build LNG export facilities.
The market changed.
Meanwhile, coal giant Peabody Energy predicts the market for coal will improve as natural gas prices rise.
CSX railroad expects domestic coal shipments to stabilize at a lower level soon, because all the power companies that could switch to cheaper natural gas have pretty much done so.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, says the Navy plans to spend $127 million on construction projects at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
That includes $85 million for a hangar and training facilities for the P-8A Poseidon aircraft.
The air station has about 10,000 military and civilian employees, according to state statistics.
Larsen’s press release on the Navy’s plans includes this helpful link to the Defense Department’s proposed 2014 construction budget.
Here are the details emailed from Larsen’s press office:
WASHINGTON—The Navy plans to spend more than $127 million on construction projects at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, including $85 million for a , Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02, announced today.
“My top priority is to invest in the foundation of long-term economic growth that creates jobs and opportunity in the Pacific Northwest,” Larsen said. “This major investment will create hundreds of jobs on Whidbey Island and secure the future of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as one of the Navy’s most valuable Pacific assets. I am committed to making sure that Congress approves this funding so that Naval Air Station Whidbey Island continues to grow as a national strategic asset and local economic driver.”
The budget proposal includes $85.176 million for the construction of a P-8A aircraft hangar and training facilities, $32.482 million for facility improvements for the expanded EA-18G aircraft presence and $10 million to replace the fuel pier breakwater.
Larsen is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which will consider the defense budget proposal in the months ahead.
Larsen announced $7 million in funding for the design of the P-8A hangar last month.
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.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that trainloads of coal are already passing through Whatcom County on the way to export terminals in Canada. Environmental groups are now reporting that coal is falling off these trains into the water elsewhere along their route.
In this report from KOMO, divers for Puget Soundkeeper Alliance say they are finding coal in the water along the rail route at Seattle’s Ballard Locks.
In this report from KGW in Portland, Columbia Riverkeeper reports similar findings in and around the Columbia Gorge.
In my occasional walks along the South Bay Trail to Boulevard Park, I have been checking for traces of coal as I cross the BNSF Railway Co. tracks. So far I haven’t noticed anything.
I have recently heard reports of coal being found around the tracks along the north end of the bay, where the prevailing southerly winds would blow across the cars.
Until the 1950s, Bellingham had its very own coal mine. I suppose it is possible that coal spilled from that era is still visible in places along the tracks. I don’t pretend to know.
If you have found any, feel free to post a comment or drop me a line: email@example.com.
The environmentalists, who are giving the fight against Gateway Pacific Terminal and other projects their maximum effort, are warning that the coal problems can be expected to get worse if GPT and other proposed northwest coal ports are allowed.
Backers of the Gateway Pacific Terminal project and other proposed Northwest coal export facilities have been quick to react after the governors of Washington and Oregon asked federal regulators to consider greenhouse gas emissions and other global impacts as those projects get review.
The governors, Jay Inslee of Washington and Jon Kitzhaber of Oregon, sent this letter to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality Thursday, March 25, asking that council to give broad scrutiny to the projects.
“We believe the decisions to continue and expand coal leasing from federal lands and authorize the export of that coal are likely to lead to long-term investments in coal generation in Asia, with air quality and climate impacts in the United States that dwarf those of almost any other action the federal government could take in the foreseeable future,” the governors’ letter states.
But business, union and agriculture leaders making up the Alliance for Northwest Jobs and Exports have expressed opposition to the governors’ stance. They argue that the “expanded regulation” the governors want would set a precedent that would affect other projects and cause economic harm.
The argument seems to be that the economic benefits of exporting U.S. coal as a cheap power source for China and other Asian countries outweigh any potential negative impacts to global climate or human health. If that is the argument, why not subject that argument to both economic and environmental scrutiny before permits are granted?
Some coal export backers (such as Brian Schweitzer, former Montana governor) have argued that the Northwest terminals won’t have any measurable impact on coal burning in China: Denied U.S. coal, the Chinese will get and burn the same amount of coal from other sources. ( Read Schweitzer’s arguments here.)
If that argument has merit, advocates of coal exports should be able to offer evidence for it during the environmental impact statement process — if these broader questions are included in the scope of that process.
That is why the upcoming decisions on scope-of-study are crucial. Will local, state and federal regulators take on these global questions, as Inslee and Kitzhaber and thousands of local residents prefer? Or will they decide that the law requires them to stick closer to Whatcom County and its environs, focusing on Cherry Point eelgrass beds, ship and rail traffic, etc.? We shall see.
Here is the full text of the rebuttal to Inslee and Kitzhaber from the Alliance For Northwest Jobs and Exports:
SEATTLE, Wash. – Labor and business leaders responded forcefully to the call from Governors of Oregon and Washington for expanded federal review in the approval of coal export projects in the Northwest. They reiterated strong support for the proposed bulk export terminals and expressed concern over the precedent that expanded regulation would have on future exports from the Northwest.
The governors wrote a joint letter to the Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) urging that it undertake a thorough review of greenhouse gas emissions and other air quality impacts prior to any final decisions on coal export projects. Three proposed projects are currently undergoing rigorous government environmental impact assessments in the Northwest. If approved, these port projects would expand trade and exports to Asia and the rest of the world, contributing to the regional economy in addition to creating thousands of good family-wage jobs at these facilities.
“Just last week the U.S. Senate voted to oppose any new requirement or regulation that federal agencies account for greenhouse gas emissions in their analyses under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Such a requirement could be particularly damaging to the Northwest, where trade and exports are so vital to the local economy,” said Lauri Hennessey, spokeswoman for the trade advocacy group the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, which represents nearly 400,000 workers and 46,000 businesses.
“We have always been and remain committed to making these projects a reality,” said Mike Elliott, Spokesman for the Washington State Legislative Board of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET). “We will continue working with the Oregon and Washington Governors towards the best outcome for these multi-commodity facilities.”
“This is déjà vu all over again,” said John Stuhlmiller, CEO of the Washington Farm Bureau. “We saw this kind of intervention when the CEQ stepped in 20 years ago on the issue of federal timber harvests in the Northwest. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Tying GHG emissions to export projects is a bad idea and an ineffective policy for addressing the Governor’s climate policy objectives. It sets a precedent that could be used to slow or stop exports of agriculture and other bulk commodities – hurting our trade economy.”
“Existing federal law requires exhaustive environmental review of development projects to ensure that our environment is protected,” said Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business. “In addition, Washington has some of the most stringent environmental standards in the nation and every project must meet or exceed those standards in order to go forward. Imposing additional, unwarranted and unnecessary regulatory burdens in an attempt to derail a particular project would set a dangerous precedent that will jeopardize our state’s economic future,” Brunell added. “We continue to support a balanced approach that ensures both environmental protection and economic opportunity.”
“Virtually every product we export, from cars to turbines to planes to grains, has an environmental impact,” said Ross Eisenberg , vice president of energy and resources policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. “The already-too-long permitting process for new projects–a process that takes on average 3.4 years–would become completely unmanageable if the law were expanded to require the type of review the two governors are now seeking.”
Trade and exports have played a central role in the Washington and Oregon economies for decades. One in four jobs in the region is tied to the trade industry, which annually produces hundreds of millions in tax revenues. Economic studies show the private investment proposed for five new bulk export terminals would create thousands of new jobs and generate millions in additional tax revenue for schools and other services in Washington and Oregon.
“We disagree with this approach and believe current regulations ensure rigorous environmental review of each individual project. We will continue our efforts to make the case to Governors Inslee and Kitzhaber, as well as others, that these terminal projects are good for our region and can be done right,” said Hennessey.
(End press release)
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
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
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna has just a few days left in office, but he and his people are still keeping busy. On Friday, Jan. 11, McKenna announced a legal settlement with an online “penny auction” company that was accused of using “bidbots” to inflate auction prices.
Bidders who participated in the ArrowOutlet auctions were required to pay 50 cents per bid, in packs that cost $20 apiece. In some cases, investigators say, the “bidbots” emerged as the high bidders, enabling the company to keep the bid fees and the merchandise.
Here is the text of the legal complaint against ArrowOutlet.
McKenna, a Republican, ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor against Jay Inslee.
Here’s the press release from McKenna’s office:
SEATTLE – Bidders on electronics and other goods auctioned on ArrowOutlet.com thought they were competing with other human beings. But it turns out, according to a lawsuit filed by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, they were often battling “bots.”
“Arrow Outlet programmed ‘bidbots,’ software that runs – that cheats – automatically,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “These programs created bogus bids that rigged results. And the bidbots sometimes won, allowing Arrow Outlet to walk away with all the bidders’ money and the auction item.”
McKenna’s office today announced a settlement with the so-called “penny auction” site. The company will shut down its auctions and provide restitution to its customers.
Inside penny auctions
Arrow Outlet’s site required bids to be purchased in “packs” that cost at least $20. Auctions would generally take place over a period of days or hours. When the remaining time ticked below 15 seconds, each new bid increased the remaining time by 15 seconds. But Assistant Attorney General Jake Bernstein, who handled the case, says Arrow Outlet’s bidbots were engineered to secretly intervene in the process.
“By deploying hidden programming to simulate bidding, Arrow Outlet increased the number of bids required for real consumers to win an auction,” said Bernstein. “That practice is obviously unfair and deceptive – a clear violation of our state’s Consumer Protection Act.”
In a consent decree today filed in King County Superior Court, Arrow Outlet is, among other restrictions, barred from running penny auctions. It agrees not to violate the Consumer Protection Act by misrepresenting online products and services. The company will pay $20,000 in Attorney’s fees and $15,000 in penalties, with another $35,000 suspended as long as the company follows the terms of the settlement.
Arrow Outlet will pay the Attorney General’s Office $50,000 to run an Arrow Outlet restitution fund for Washington state consumers. Up to $250 will be available for each Washington state consumer who purchased bids between Aug. 1, 2010 through July 31, 2012. In order to receive restitution, Washington state consumers must contact the Attorney General’s Office and request a claim form. The claim form will be available in about two months.
This is the third penny auction site taken down by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. In 2010, the office negotiated a deal to shut down PennyBidr, which, like ArrowOutlet.com, programmed fake bids. In 2011, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office stopped another penny auction site that was failing to deliver items to the winning bidder.
Do these cases make Washington’s Attorney General skeptical about penny auctions?
“Yes,” says McKenna. “Bidder beware.”
End press release
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
By John Stark
After the uproar over the use or misuse of the public comment period at the Nov. 29 environmental impact statement scoping meeting in Ferndale, as well as at the Dec. 4 meeting in Spokane, the regulatory agencies have announced a different approach.
This week, at the Wed. Dec. 12 meeting in Vancouver, Wash. and the Thursday, Dec. 13 meeting in Seattle, a lottery system will be in place to decide who gets one of the limited number of two-minute speaking opportunities before a live microphone. No need to show up hours early to get a chance.
Read the details here in a joint press release from Whatcom County, Washington Department of Ecology and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Details on the meetings themselves:
Vancouver: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; Clark College, Gaiser Student Center, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way; meeting room capacity is 800.
Seattle: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012; 4 to 7 p.m.; Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Ballroom 6F. Capacity is 3,500.
In an email last week, Whatcom County Planning Manager Tyler Schroeder reiterated that the three agencies aren’t giving any extra credit for comments spoken into a microphone. Mailed and emailed comments get the same consideration:
“Yes, the agencies will be giving the the same significance to oral
comments as written comments. All comments, regardless of how
submitted, are transcribed and posted on the website for review. There
are many avenues for people to submit comments and thousands of people
are commenting on line, either via the website, or by email: http://www.eisgatewaypacificwa.gov/get-involved/comment . We will be reviewing all comments received during the 120-day comment period.”
The comment period ends Jan. 21, 2012.