Energy independence done safe and done right is focus for Senate energy panel, Ericksen says

Sen. Ericksen chairs a meeting of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.

Sen. Ericksen chairs a meeting of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.

Energy independence done safe and done right will be the central theme for the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee this year, says Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

“Low-cost energy is one of the best things this state has going for it,” said Ericksen, who is beginning his third year as the panel’s chair. “We need to preserve that advantage, while finding ways to promote innovation, encourage development of clean energy and improve environmental protection.”

Ericksen said he plans a busy agenda for his committee in 2015 as the panel considers policies aimed at keeping Washington energy clean, cheap, calm and cutting-edge. Once the session begins Monday, big topics will include:

  • State policies to promote the deployment of solar power and small modular nuclear reactor technology.
  • Revisions to Initiative 937, the 2006 ballot measure mandating heavy utility investment in some specific forms of “renewable” energy, primarily wind.
  • A top-to-bottom overhaul of the state’s Model Toxics Control Act aimed at ensuring money is spent for environmental cleanup, its intended purpose.
  • A renewed effort to pass oil-train safety legislation, which stalled during the 2014 session.
  • Conversion of the state’s ferry fleet to clean-burning liquefied natural gas.

Other notable items on the committee’s agenda include “broadband buildout” — the deployment of high-speed Internet technology statewide – together with an examination of the state’s high rate of telecommunications taxation.

Ericksen said the state ought to encourage the development of clean-energy technologies as a way to improve the environment, create new jobs and promote manufacturing and exports. But he said it should not do so by artificially increasing the price of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, industrial customers in Washington pay the lowest rates in the nation, eight cents per kilowatt hour. “In this state we don’t have a trade-off between jobs and the environment,” Ericksen said. “We enjoy low rates because of our abundance of clean, cheap hydropower. We’re entitled to affordable energy, and we need to keep it that way.”

The proposed overhaul of the Model Toxics Control Act would put its focus on toxic cleanups. Washington voters passed the measure in 1988 to fund cleanup of polluted sites for which no private owner could be held liable. Money is generated by a tax on hazardous substances, primarily oil, and until the recent downturn in oil prices it generated roughly $400 million every two years. But cash-strapped lawmakers repeatedly raided the fund during the recent recession. Ericksen said lawmakers should build upon reform legislation he sponsored in 2013 to ensure cleanup money is not siphoned away for other purposes.

“Environmental cleanups really ought to be seen as an important economic development tool,” he said. “Once contaminated sites are cleaned up, they can be put back into productive use. But if we’re going to get cleanups done in a reasonable time frame, we need to stop reaching into the cookie jar,” he said.

Ericksen also will serve on the Senate’s Trade and Economic Development and Transportation committees.