Afternoon Jolt

Afternoon Jolt: City to Scrutinize Shell Deal at Port

Democrats put GOP on the spot, and City puts Port of Seattle on the spot.

By Josh Feit March 9, 2015

Afternoon Jolt

1. The GOP passed a bill late today scaling back I-937, the 2006 voter-approved measure that says utilities must transition to renewable energy. An amendment to the bill the Republicans passed along the way, though, may actually aggravate environmentalists even more: The Republican amendment officially questioned whether humans cause climate change.


 This morning, I reported that state senator Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) had proposed an amendment to a Republican bill that brought the proceedings to a halt last Friday afternoon.

The GOP bill, sponsored by state senator Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale) and passed out of his environment committee on a strict party line vote with all the Democrats voting no, would change 2006's voter-approved I-937, a renewable energy mandate for utilities. Ericksen's legislation would allow carbon offsets to count toward the goal of using renewable energy; I-937 says utilities have to get to 15 percent renewable sources by 2020.

Habib's amendment, which stated "that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to climate change," provided some context. His amendment goes on: "The legislature further finds that climate change is harming the state and that without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions the harm to the state will be greatly increased," concluding, "it is the intent of the 2015 legislature that action be taken to reduce emissions from all sectors.

"Senate Republicans [are] so reluctant to acknowledge climate change that they again deferred consideration of their top energy priority. Why not just vote on the amendment? It takes about 10 seconds." —Senator Cyrus HabibOn Friday, Senator Ericksen objected to the amendment saying it was "out of scope"—parliamentary speak for off point—and the senate was adjourned until today, awaiting a ruling from the senate president, lieutenant governor Brad Owen.

Owen issued his finding on Senator Ericksen's challenge today ruling that Senator Habib's amendment was kosher. His reasoning: Senator Habib's amendment "provides an intent section for the bill."

He explained: "The relation between the bill and proposed amendment is sufficient. The bill provides for a specific form of credit available to utilities that make investments to reduce greenhouse gases, a goal that the bill’s proponents support. The proposed intent section builds upon that goal by describing its relationship to the issue of climate change."

After Owen's ruling today, Republican floor majority leader Joe Fain (R-47, Auburn) pulled the bill off the floor and called for a caucus—stalling the bill again and putting off a vote that may have made the GOP look like members of the Flat Earth Society.

Senator Habib told me: "I'm surprised that, having today lost their parliamentary challenge, senate Republicans were so reluctant to acknowledge climate change that they again deferred consideration of their top energy priority. Why not just vote on the amendment? It takes about 10 seconds."

It took a couple of hours actually.

The GOP eventually came back late in the afternoon and proposed an alternative amendment with a new intent section. Senator Ericksen proposed a similar amendment to Habib's with a key difference. Ericksen replaced Habib's affirmative statement that humans contribute to climate change by saying human activity "may" contribute to climate change.

Habib said he appreciated Ericksen's attempt to compromise, but added "we can't compromise on science."

Habib went on to point out that Ericksen's underlying bill itself, regulating utilities, was specifically about changing human activity to deal with climate change. In that sense, he argued, Ericksen's new intent language was illogical.

Ericksen's amendment passed 26 to 23 along party lines. 

The senate went on to pass Ericksen's underlying bill allowing utilities to count offsets toward renewable energy goals in the place of using renewable energy sources as voters originally mandated.

2. Mayor Ed Murray joined forces with city council member Mike O'Brien today.

O'Brien had been rounding up council members to sign a letter calling on the city's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to reassess the Port of Seattle's city permit at Terminal 5. The current permit defines Terminal 5 as a "cargo terminal" where goods are stored and transferred.

O'Brien (along with all of his council colleagues) and Mayor Murray too it turns out are concerned that the port's plans to turn the terminal over to Shell Oil as a layover for its arctic oil drilling fleet could change the uses of the terminal. For example, Terminal 5 could be revamped as a repair shop for the oil fleet. Murray directed DPD today to review the port's permit and determine if Shell's operations gibe with the current permit.

After reviewing the current permit, DPD could determine that a different use permit is necessary—which would trigger a new state environmental review process and put the whole Shell operation under more scrutiny.

O'Brien said in a statement: “I have grave concerns about Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet coming to Puget Sound in a damaged state, discharging oil and other toxic pollutants along our shorelines during transport and repair, jeopardizing the local ecosystem, and undoing decades of work to clean up the Sound. Shell’s track the Arctic includes eight felony offenses relating to environmental and maritime crimes, such as discharging oil-contaminated water directly overboard, which is simply unacceptable.”

And Mayor Murray added:

"I’m directing DPD to conduct a thorough review of the Terminal 5 proposal and determine if the anticipated activities at the terminal involving the Shell drilling fleet require new permits before it can proceed." —Mayor Ed Murray“Any project of this apparent significance to our industrial lands must go through the appropriate review. It’s important that the public and surrounding businesses are informed of all the possible impacts of this lease—both economic and environmental—and that these impacts are sufficiently disclosed and evaluated. This is why I’m directing DPD to conduct a thorough review of the Terminal 5 proposal and determine if the anticipated activities at the terminal involving the Shell drilling fleet require new permits before it can proceed.”

Mayor Murray spokesman Viet Shelton says the mayor's office was already working with DPD on the issue when they heard O'Brien was rounding up signatures for a letter of his own. "It was good timing," he said, "and an opportunity for cooperation."

Whether or not O'Brien was coopted by the mayor, it all works out for the Sierra Club activist–turned–council member. A council letter to DPD would have been a mere suggestion. A mandate from the mayor means the DPD has to act.

Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw says: "The Port of Seattle believes it has complied with all necessary environmental requirements, including the Seattle municipal code requirements, with regard to [Shell's] use of Terminal 5. For the purposes of [state environmental review] review, the port acted as lead agency in this matter, with the city responsible only for the shoreline substantial development permit exemption review, which was granted. We are committed to fully comply with any and all requirements and regulations."


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