Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, issued this statement regarding the Senate passage of SB 5296, which significantly impacts the Model Toxics Control Account (MTCA - the state's main funding source for reducing the harm of toxic substances in our environment):
"While this bill has many worthy elements, it unfortunately contains major flaws that will ultimately set back rather than advance our ability to make our communities safer and create thousands of jobs while cleaning up toxic sites.
“Some of the bill’s positive elements include the requirement for greater long-term planning for MTCA funds, the development of “model remedies” for cleanup of hazardous waste sites, and the setting of performance measures to assess the timeliness and effectiveness of cleanup progress.
“But a comprehensive approach to reducing the harm from toxic substances must include both prevention and cleanup efforts. While this legislation has good intentions, it dramatically impacts funding for prevention, creates another level of bureaucracy, and, in order to garner enough votes for passage, piles on funding for numerous projects that are not appropriately supported by this account.
“This legislation threatens to reduce or eliminate many important grants provided to cities and counties to help them with local waste management programs, including proper disposal of household hazardous wastes. The bills further limits prevention activities by creating a new level of bureaucracy through the creation of a dedicated account to which MTCA funds would be automatically deposited.
“And while proponents in the Senate contend that this bill protects MTCA funds, the facts tell a very different story. This bill and the Republican budget proposal actually sweep $55 million from MTCA to cover cuts in General Fund activities. This includes $20 million to subsidize the gas tax and fund general operations at the Department of Transportation. $29 million is redirected to the Department of Ecology. $3.5 million is swept to pay for forest practices at the Department of Natural Resources, and $3 million is shifted to pay for hatchery operations at the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some MCTA funds are even being used for maintenance at county fairs and athletic fields.
“These are undoubtedly worthy activities to pay for, but they are more appropriately supported by the general fund – and not the account voters have specifically created and designated to address hazardous and toxic substances in the environment. These fund shifts – combined with the de-emphasis on prevention of hazardous substance contamination – represent a step back in our commitment as a state to addressing in a serious, comprehensive and concerted manner the harm that hazardous substances pose to our land and waterways.
“Further, and more concerning, the prioritization of “allowable” and “priority” activities in the bill could actually allow the polluters more access to these state funds instead of the local communities. This change in prioritization for potentially liable parties is a major concern of numerous stakeholders, constituents and local governments I have heard from.
“While I attempted numerous times to work with the sponsor to develop a compromise, those efforts were unsuccessful. Yesterday, I offered a final amendment that would have retained the positive elements of the bill while restoring a balanced set of eligible uses of the MTCA funds that would have emphasized both prevention as well as cleanup. The passage of this amendment would have allowed the immediate cleanup of over 60 toxic sites throughout Washington State – including those in Bellingham and Anacortes – and would have created several thousand jobs. This amendment failed largely on party lines.
“In the end, it is extremely unfortunate that instead of a bipartisan success story that could have cleaned up dozens of toxic sites and created thousands of jobs, this lopsided bill passed the chamber.
“My glass, however, remains half full. I will continue working on this critical issue and am encouraged by my recent conversation with key members of the House and the Governor’s office. I believe we will reform this critical program, making our communities healthier while creating thousands of good jobs.”