State effort to streamline toxic-waste cleanup holds great promise, Ericksen says

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, advocates more efficient enviromental cleanups during debate on SB 5296 on the Senate floor.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, advocates more efficient enviromental cleanups during debate on SB 5296 on the Senate floor.

A new state initiative to streamline the state’s toxic-waste cleanup rules holds great promise for quicker results and lower costs, says state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, sponsor of the Senate bill that launched the effort.

The Department of Ecology is developing standardized cleanup procedures for the most common types of contaminated sites. The effort is driven by an Ericksen bill that passed the Legislature by a broad bipartisan vote in 2013.

“We’re making it easier to get the job done,” said Ericksen, chairman of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. “We’ve had years of experience cleaning up abandoned gas stations, old dry-cleaning plants and other common types of contaminated sites, and there is no reason we should reinvent the process every time.”

Until this point, even the most routine cleanups have required costly feasibility studies and an analysis of alternatives. That level of study no longer makes sense, Ericksen said. “Why should we require this level of effort when these types of cleanups have really become a no-brainer? This ought to reduce the amount of time it takes to get approval from Ecology and allow more projects to move forward.”

Ericksen’s measure, Senate Bill 5296, was the first major reform to Washington’s Model Toxics Control Act since it was passed by voters as Initiative 97 in 1988. Among other requirements, it directs the Department of Ecology to solicit proposals for “model remedies” for common types of sites. Ecology is developing draft rules for the process. Early next year the agency will issue a public notice and provide opportunity for public comment.

Although Ecology has authority to adopt model remedies for standard cleanup projects, it has rarely done so in the past. The law requires it to consider proposals for model remedies from qualified engineers and consultants. These remedies may be based on the types of facilities involved, the hazardous substances and the geography of the area. Once a model remedy is adopted, Ecology must accept its use at sites that meet the same criteria. The agency must report back to the Legislature by November 2016 about its success in using model remedies.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency permits similar “presumptive remedies” for cleanups governed by federal law and it has found that standardized processes can save time and money. But until the 2013 law was passed the Model Toxics Control Act law had no such fast-track provisions.

“The 2013 law was a first step in reforming the state cleanup statute to make it more efficient and effective,” Ericksen said. “We look forward to continuing that work in the coming legislative session.”