NEWS: Whatcom County senators broker landmark agreement on toxic-cleanup reform

In broad bipartisan votes tonight the Senate and House of Representatives approved a bill – subsequently signed into law by the governor – to create jobs and improve Washington’s environment by reforming the state’s toxic-cleanup program. The landmark agreement was secured through the work of Whatcom County’s Senate delegation, Sens. Kevin Ranker and Doug Ericksen.

SB 5296 bill signing“Reforming Washington’s toxic-cleanup program to improve the environment and create jobs was one of my top legislative priorities coming into the 2013 legislative session,” said Ericksen, GOP-Ferndale, who introduced the measure. “I sincerely appreciate the collaboration and hard work of my colleagues, particularly Senator Ranker; the bill’s passage would not have been possible without his support.” 

“This legislation will accelerate the clean-up of hundreds of contaminated industrial and commercial sites, breathing new life and ultimately new business into these previously unusable areas, creating thousands of jobs in the process,” said Ranker, D-Orcas Island.

The state’s toxic-cleanup program and the hazardous-substance tax that supports it were created by voters through a 1988 initiative. Tax dollars flowing into the account have in recent years become a frequent target of diversions to the general fund. Meanwhile cleanups have lagged, leaving as many as 5,000 sites around the state awaiting action.

Senate Bill 5296 increases the number of toxic sites that can be cleaned and promotes job creation through those cleanup projects. It also generates long-term economic growth by renewing contaminated lands and making them suitable for re-development.

Funds generated by the hazardous-substance tax in excess of $140 million per year will be directed to the newly-created Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account to be appropriated on capital projects that meet innovation and efficiency standards. Appropriations from the account would have to be approved by the Legislature to ensure transparency and accountability.

The bill also incorporates a measure Ranker introduced last year to expedite cleanups of contaminated industrial and commercial or “brownfield” lands to allow the re-development of areas, creating additional construction jobs and long term economic drivers.