Yesterday the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill I proposed to establish the Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account. Senate Bill 5296, which also would reform the state’s toxic-cleanup program, is a key component of my legislative agenda of job creation and environmental improvement.
Reforming our state’s toxic-cleanup program and establishing the Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account will improve our environment, create jobs and foster long-term economic growth – all without raising taxes. Make no mistake: if this legislation moves forward, it will be the most significant job-creation bill to come out of Olympia this year.
There are over 1,900 sites across the state awaiting cleanup. Many of them are small, but there are some large-scale projects like the Duwamish waterway in Seattle, Commencement Bay in Tacoma and the Georgia Pacific site in Bellingham. Moving forward on improving these lands is a two-for-one deal. Not only would we be creating up-front jobs by cleaning the hazardous sites, we’ll also ensure long-term economic growth from rejuvenating toxic lands and making them ready for development.
Washington’s toxic-cleanup program was established in 1988. Its stated goals are to fund the cleanup and prevention of hazardous-waste sites around the state. The program is supported by the state’s hazardous-substance tax, which is paid primarily by the state’s oil companies and passed to consumers in the form of higher gas prices; it’s anticipated that around $385 million would be generated by the tax in the coming two-year budget cycle.
Because of the large amounts of money coming into the program, it has become a frequent target of diversions – both to the state’s general fund and to projects like Master Gardener outreach which may have merit, but don’t fit with its mission statement.
Creation of the Environmental Legacy Stewardship Account helps refocus the program on its original goals. Revenues from the hazardous-substance tax in excess of $108 million per year would be deposited into the account and dedicated to toxic cleanup.
ELSA funds 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.
We all want to be good stewards of our environment, and by passing this bill we’ll be ensuring that we’re leaving the campsite better than we found it for future generations. I appreciate the consideration my colleagues on the Senate Ways and Means Committee gave this bill, and I’ll continue to work to see it passed for the people of Whatcom County and Washington state.