April 22, 2013
With today’s bipartisan passage of Senate Bill 5296, our state has moved one step forward towards the creation of a new green-jobs fund that will improve the environment and grow our economy. It’s fitting that the bill would be approved on Earth Day, because it’s the single most effective way we can begin the process of cleaning up contaminated sites around the state.
I proposed creating the Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account to refocus the state’s toxic-cleanup program on its original goals of funding the cleanup and prevention of hazards around the state. Monies from the state’s hazardous-substance tax in excess of $108 million per year would be deposited into the account and dedicated to toxic cleanup. It’s anticipated that around $150 million would be deposited in the account from the tax for the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1.
Funds from the account would be used on capital projects that meet innovation and efficiency standards spelled out in law, and would have to be specifically approved by the Legislature. An emphasis would be put on renewing lands with commercial or industrial potential, and the creation of model remedies would expedite timelines for cleanup projects.
The Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account is about three things: transparency, accountability and oversight. Those are the keys to ending the fund shifts from the account that have plagued recent budgets.
It’s no coincidence that the same year this bill moves forward is the first year the Senate budget does not rely on transfers from the toxic-cleanup account. Essentially what we’re doing is moving toxic cleanup from the back of the budget, where it’s been for many years, to the forefront.
The state’s toxic-cleanup program, which was established in 1988, is supported by the state’s hazardous substance tax. Tax dollars flowing into the account have in recent years made it become a frequent target of diversions to the general fund to grow state government, leaving as many as 5,000 sites around the state awaiting action.
Many of the sites are small, but there are also large-scale projects like Commencement Bay in Tacoma, the Duwamish waterway in Seattle and the Georgia Pacific site in Bellingham.
Aside from the obvious environmental benefit of renewing these lands, this bill will also be a key driver for our economy. In addition to the short-term cleanup jobs we’ll create, there will be considerable long-term economic benefit as these sites are again made available for development. That’s a double-win for the people of our state.
I’m a firm believer that we all want to be good stewards of the environment and leave future generations with a better planet than the one we inherited. By passing SB 5296 to reform the toxic cleanup program and create the Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account, we’ll be improving our state’s environment and economy. That’s something we can be proud of any day.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, GOP-Ferndale, is the Chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and has represented Whatcom County in the state Legislature since 1999.