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Sightline: Stormwater Legislative Wrap-Up

By Andrew Calkins May 20, 2011

The Sightline Institute has a lengthy post up over at their Daily Score blog today detailing the legislative progress on stormwater cleanup issues in 2011. As the post notes, legislators have been fairly successful in passing new regulation —banning coal tar sealants, fertilizers containing phosphorus, and paint containing copper —but have failed in raising new funds to cleanup existing runoff.

Environmental groups have continuously pushed bills in recent years to raise new revenue, particularly from fees on the oil industry, for cleanup projects around Puget Sound. The Daily Score explains, however, that "the third time was definitely not the charm when it came to creating a new funding source."
In 2009, legislation (HB 1614/ SB 5518) would have assessed a fee on petroleum products. In 2010, new rules (HB 3181/SB 6851) sought to increase a tax that is already added to thousands of toxic chemicals, including petroleum, pesticides, and other products. This year, the anti-stormwater coalition backed the "Clean Water Jobs Act" (SB 5604/HB 1735) which would have put a 1 percent fee on petroleum products, pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.

Each of these measures failed; last year's tax had a fighting chance, but the proposal this year never got a full vote in either the House or Senate. The past efforts have faced intensive lobbying from the petroleum and chemistry industries, and this year ag joined the fight as well thanks to the inclusion of pesticides and fertilizers in the list of items subject to fees.

One reason legislators run out of steam on bills to raise new revenue for cleanup projects is the oil company claim that they already pay for hazardous waste cleanup. In fact, they do already pay, through a voter-approved Model Toxics Control Act. But legislators routinely sweep money from previously dedicated funds and use it for general fund expenditures.

This year, oil companies successfully claimed that they shouldn't be subjected to an additional fee for a dedicated account that will likely be swept by legislators in later years (legislators swept $17 million from the MTCA account for the 2011 supplemental budget).

The whole post is worth a read; it highlights a few environmental successes in a legislative session that otherwise spent most of its time working on budget issues.
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