The Gristle

Save Our Salish Sea

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

SAVE OUR SALISH SEA: As the 2018 Legislative session opens in Olympia, Democrats intend to employ their slim majorities in both houses to run as far as they’re able with an ambitious agenda.

Recognizing the need for urgent action, the Environmental Priorities Coalition proposed a number of interlocking priorities for the session. The coalition is a network of more than 20 environmental groups in Washington state that influence policy at the state level.

Overarching all is a comprehensive climate action plan that as its centerpiece will attempt to put a price on carbon pollution. Activists from climate groups across the state stormed the Capitol this week, demanding meaningful progress on climate change. Proposed bills intend to move the state into a future of clean energy and emission-free vehicles by 2045.

Next, a sustainable water management program to provide adequate water for people, farms and fish. Moving quickly on this second item, Democratic senators this week introduced a bill that would attempt to decouple legislative paralysis around the Hirst decision from the state’s approved capital budget, freeing up billions of dollars for infrastructure improvements held hostage by Republicans seeking leverage on water issues.

The third item is an oil spill prevention act championed by Sen. Kevin Ranker, the 40th District Democrat.

“Now more than ever, Washington must build upon our global leadership in addressing carbon emissions, and we can do so through innovation, including:  controlling carbon emissions through restrictive pricing, investing in clean transportation and renewable technology, and creating high standards that reduce future emissions,” Ranker said.

The oil spill prevention act also factors into a tailored package of priorities sponsored by Ranker specific to the Salish Sea.

Biologists in 2017 projected the probable extinction of the 76 remaining and endangered Southern Resident Orca population, which as the result of a series of recent juvenile deaths nears the point of no recovery. The leading factors to the decline of these creatures are starvation (the result of a decline in fish stocks) and ambient noise that impairs their hunting echolocation (worsened by an increase in heavy vessel traffic in Puget Sound).

“Increasing vessel traffic, potential oil spills, pollution, invasive species and climate change are all major threats to our incredible Salish Sea and billions of dollars in economic activity that depend upon a healthy ecosystem,” Ranker said.

“Those threats increased with the Trump announcement to open Washington state to new offshore oil and gas exploration. We must ensure we protect our state waters from the greatest threat, a major oil spill, as well as legacy contamination and invasive species that continue to put our waters and Orca whales at risk.”

According to Ranker, the 2018 Salish Sea Protection package of new legislation will commit the state to dramatically improving oil spill response, strengthening protections of orca whales, banning net pen aquaculture of invasive species, and prioritizing toxic cleanups in the nearshore and marine environment. 

The comprehensive package arrives in the form of several bills.

The first will fully fund Washington state oil spill prevention and response activities; update critical, geographical response plans; and encourage tug escorts and rescue tugs for all vessels carrying millions of gallons of oil.

“Since 2009, most of our oil preparedness response has become outdated and, in some cases, totally irrelevant,” Ranker noted. What’s happened is a marked shift in how oil is transferred across our waters, he said, morphing from tankers carrying light crude from Alaska to pipelines and barges laden with heavy tar sands oil.

The second increases enforcement of orca whale protection laws—providing for permanent dedicated enforcement vessels, while increasing support for salmon production and restoration and calls for a transboundary discussion with British Columbia of orca whale protection and preservation.

The third sunsets the hazard of Atlantic salmon net pens, and their potential to further erode the health and numbers of wild fish stocks in Puget Sound. The proposed legislation eliminates all new leases and permits for invasive Atlantic salmon net pens as well as net pens for other nonnative finfish. It also requires strengthening oversight guidelines for existing net pen operations based upon updated scientific information—the current regulations are more than 25 years old.

“We are not going to allow net pen aquaculture of Atlantic salmon or any other invasive species in our Puget Sound,” Ranker said. “It makes absolutely zero sense to spend billions of dollars to restore this magical body of water, and then allow this pollutant—the day-in, day-out release of food waste and bio-waste, disease and parasites, from these operations—in the Salish Sea.”

Another bill would focus toxic cleanups of nearshore environments and marine waters. This legislation includes provisions to speed up cleanups of contaminated properties.

“This is the third leg of the stool damaging orca populations,” Ranker explained. “Food. Noise pollution. Toxins: Just know that there is a pollution spill into the Puget Sound each year equal to the Exxon Valdez spill just from stormwater.”

The total effort, Ranker observed, was part of the Blue Wall, as West Coast states continue to push back against Trump administration directives and continue their own goals in the decline of federal support.

“We have this incredible majestic water body, the Salish Sea, that is so special to us—not just for the recreational value and the magic we feel when we look out across the water and see orcas jumping—but economically it represents billions of dollars in economic activity,” the Orcas Island Democrat said.

“For all of those reasons, it is our duty, our calling, that we protect and preserve and restore the Salish Sea.”

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Skagit Tours

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Bard on the Beach

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Skagit Tours

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