By Ralph Schwartz
It’s like your children. It’s great to see them playing nice together for a change.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island was upset about the 23-Republican, 2-Democrat takeover of the Senate, and he refused a committee chairmanship.
He ended up taking the lead minority position in the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, which is chaired by our other local senator, Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.
Ranker and Ericksen don’t always see eye-to-eye. In an interview shortly before the Jan. 14 start of session, as Ranker was seeing his first-term chairmanship slipping away, he criticized incoming chair Ericksen for scoring a zero with Washington Conservation Voters in his first two years in the Senate.
Ericksen took umbrage, calling me to inform me about a 2005 bill on renewable energy he voted for.
Anyhow, relations have thawed between the two senators.
Two bills, one sponsored by each senator, relate to the Model Toxics Control Act fund (known more by its acronym MTCA, pronounced “motca”). Both bills passed the Energy, etc. Committee on Wednesday and are headed to Ways and Means for an assessment of their budget impacts.
Ranker’s bill, SB 5201, would streamline the permitting process for cleaning up toxic sites that are under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Ecology.
“I’ve worked with the agency for a year developing a bill that would streamline the process so it doesn’t take nine years to get approval for your permit, it takes not even a year. So what we can do then is spend the money to clean up the sites,” Ranker said in a separate interview last month.
That’s where Ericksen’s SB 5296 comes in. It would make sure money in the MTCA fund gets spent on cleanup. The Legislature has been in the habit of raiding that fund to pay for other services. This was due in part to the fact that permit handling was slow, and money was building up in the fund.
“(Ericksen) and I are really on a similar page here with regard to both of our bills,” Ranker said. “I want to use MTCA to clean up sites and do other important environmental efforts like stormwater, and I want to hire people to do that good work. … It doesn’t matter if you’re chair or ranking, you really try to work together. … On the areas where we can work together, we owe it to our constituents to do so.”
Ericksen also spoke to how the two bills worked together, speaking in particular about the cleanup on the Bellingham waterfront:
“I think it’s been slowed down both by the permitting process and by the jump starts to funding. We have to get the permitting in line and a steady stream of dollars for cleanup.”
He also said it was appropriate for Ranker to sponsor one of the MTCA bills, especially because he had introduced a similar bill that didn’t make it through the previous session.
“He’s done a lot of work,” Ericksen said of Ranker. “If you do things right, there’s plenty of credit to go around.”
Below is a press release sent Wednesday, Feb. 13, by Ericksen’s office about the two bills passing out of the Energy, etc. Committee:
Ericksen’s toxic cleanup bill to create jobs, protect environment clears committee hurdle
Whatcom County senator’s bill one of pair approved to reform state’s toxic cleanup program
OLYMPIA…A bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen to create jobs and protect the environment by refocusing the use of the state’s toxic cleanup account was approved today by the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.
The state’s Model Toxics Control Act was created by a voter initiative in 1988 and is funded by a “hazardous substance tax,” primarily on petroleum products. In the current two-year budget cycle, revenue from the hazardous-substance tax is expected to reach $352 million. In recent years, the account has been a frequent target of diversions, with $233 million shifted to general government spending since 2009 alone.
“MTCA has value, but its core mission been compromised by all the funding that’s been channeled to things that are far-removed from toxic cleanup,” said Ericksen, GOP-Ferndale. “Putting the focus back on renewing toxic sites will improve the environment and put people to work on the 1,900 sites around the state awaiting remediation.
“This measure represents real reform of state government and the way we approach toxic cleanup. The fact it’s moving forward underscores the importance of the new bipartisan coalition in the Senate. Ideas are now being considered that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in previous years.”
In addition to Ericksen’s bill, the committee also approved a separate measure by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, to accelerate renewal of hazardous waste sites through streamlined permitting and increased local control for cleanup. Ericksen voted in support of that measure.
Ericksen’s measure, Senate Bill 5296, and Ranker’s legislation, Senate Bill 5201, now move to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration.