The Gristle

Fire and Water

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

FIRE AND WATER: With a stalemate continuing in Olympia over the issue of residential wells in basins of restricted supply, Whatcom County Council this week extended their ban on building permits for rural homes that require wells in basins of restricted supply.

The state Supreme Court in Oct. 2016 determined—in a ruling against Whatcom County that’s come to be known as the Hirst decision—that a reliable, year-round supply of water is required for new homes or developments, and that must be determined as part of a county’s planning and permitting process. County planning has done a credible job of covertly, sub rosa moving along a limited number of mature development applications that were already underway when the moratorium curtain fell—contrary to breathless and bloodcurdling reports, the number of homebuilders who were truly trapped mid-action, mid-investment, have been quietly addressed—but County Council is fairly paralyzed until a more clear direction emerges from Olympia.

Undoubtedly, the assurance of adequate water supply will have to be determined by county planners as part of their future permitting; but the county and other jurisdictions would prefer to have the state—notably the Dept. of Ecology—take a lead role and set the standard for defining adequate supply. This—in forms more aggressive or less aggressive—is at essence what is sought through a legislative “fix” at the state level.

State Senate Republicans have issued a bright-line demand that the concerns of the Supreme Court get sponged away by new legislation. Democrats have shown some flexibility in considering new legislation, but believe—along with their supporters, including environmental groups and the tribes—the court’s concerns about water availability and senior water rights must be recognized and accommodated, not simply obliterated. But Republicans have the leverage, holding hostage the state’s $43.2 billion capital budget. The 2017-2019 budget funds hundreds of projects and thousands of jobs around the state.

Since the politics of Hirst are likely to energize and influence election outcomes statewide for all of next year—as Republicans seek to capitalize on the rage of frustrated homebuilders and the cash contributions of powerful construction interests—it’s unlikely the Legislature will come to terms on a “fix” any time soon.

Meanwhile, Whatcom County is not the only entity paralyzed in the impasse.

Gov. Jay Inslee is in Bellingham this week, discussing climate change and the need for individuals and local and state leaders to take action. His presentation at Western Washington University is the first of several meetings and town halls the governor will host to emphasize the importance of climate action and policies to promote clean energy and technology, carbon and greenhouse gas reduction, energy efficiency and more.

A number of those climate change initiatives are addressed in the stalled capital budget.

The governor’s climate action plan was dealt an additional blow this week by the Trump administration’s rollback of the Clean Power Act, dismantling President Obama’s signature policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. In a statement this week, the Environmental Protection Agency said repealing the measure will “facilitate the development of U.S. energy resources and reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens associated with the development of those resources.”

For Washington, which receives its coal-fired electricity from a single aging plant outside the state that is scheduled to be shuttered, the EPA action is of vanishing concern. The state is not investing in coal-fired energy. But symbolically, the rollback means partnering states are no longer committed to combatting climate change through policies that encourage investment in clean energy, energy efficiency and climate resilience.

“By repealing the Clean Power Plan, President Trump and his EPA administrator are recklessly removing any meaningful, science-based federal restraint on the carbon pollution that power plants are allowed to pump into our atmosphere,” Inslee said. “The United States Supreme Court has ruled on three separate occasions that the EPA has a responsibility, under the Clean Air Act and other federal laws, to protect American communities from harmful carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan was constructed to give states the flexibility to choose its own path to a clean energy future.

“Washington state is already feeling the harmful and costly effects of climate change—in more devastating wildfire seasons, strained water resources, increasingly acidic coastal waters, and more. And we are taking action to respond,” Inslee said.

Which circles back to the paralyzed capital budget and the projects held hostage within it. Many are designed to help Whatcom and other counties address concerns about resources, including water.

More than $640 million was requested in the capital budget for Ecology projects planned for the 2017-2019 biennium. Among those projects are $5.5 million to improve channel flows in Swift Creek to help reduce naturally occurring asbestos, and $3.7 million for a number of stormwater projects around the county, as well as funds for the continued cleanup of Puget Sound.

The irony of holding the state budget hostage to Hirst is there are projects within that budget that can in many cases help address the underlying concerns of oversubscribed water supply and degraded water quality. Whatcom County Council is in no certain position to move forward on any programmatic response to Hirst without assurance their programs will be supported by legislation.

Ultimately the paralysis serves no one, other than the elected representatives who will rage and storm about the impasse for the many months of campaigning ahead.

West Coast
Past Columns
The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Sunshine Storm

February 28, 2018

A Public Education

February 21, 2018

Power Play

February 14, 2018

Neutral Ground

February 7, 2018

The Nature of the Emergency

January 31, 2018

‘Fix’ fumbled, punted

January 24, 2018

New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Parsing the Puzzle

December 27, 2017

Camp Kelli

December 20, 2017

Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017


December 6, 2017

Gulag Goulash

November 29, 2017

Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

The Book of Moron

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Adventures and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Squalicum Creek Park

Native Plant Sale & Expo

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Walk for Water

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Rock & Gem Club Show

10:00am|Bloedel Donovan Community Center

March for Our Lives

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Whatcom County Democrats Convention

10:00am|Bellingham High School

Starting Your Vegetable Garden

10:00am|Blaine Library

Tax Help Available

12:30pm| First Congregational Church


1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Spring Show Opening Reception

2:00pm|River Gallery

Native Plants & Birds

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

A Conversation with Alan Friedlob

3:00pm|Deming Library

The Passage Home to Meuse

4:00pm|Lynden Village Books

Contra Dance

7:00pm| Fairhaven Library

Shantala and Friends

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Memory's Blade

7:00pm|Village Books

Ballroom Dance

7:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Trove Web
Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Rock & Gem Club Show

10:00am|Bloedel Donovan Community Center

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Local Bird and Plant Walk

2:00pm|Chuckanut Center

An Afternoon with Jack Gunter

2:00pm| Maple Hall

Whatcom Symphony Orchestra

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

The Story of Big Ole

3:00pm|Everson Library

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|The Majestic


4:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

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Daffodil Festival

10:00am|La Conner and the Skagit Valley

Bellingham at Home Informational Meeting

1:00pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Cuban Salsa

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Monday Night Pizza

6:00pm|Ciao Thyme

Choosing a Diet for Optimal Health

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

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