Yesterday, I talked about living through a period of confusing budget-shifting. I mentioned how federal economic stimulus money is being used for public works projects — such as building a new sewer system in Gorst and a new water-treatment plant for Bremerton.
Today, I’d like to reflect on a couple of small hazardous waste cleanup projects and some juggling involving hundreds of millions of dollars in state cleanup funds.
In years past, the Washington Department of Ecology signed agreements with property owners dealing with hazardous chemicals that had leaked from underground tanks on their property. The owners were required to pay what they could, although some were not able to pay anything. Ecology might then lead the cleanup, using funds from the state’s Model Toxics Control Account. That account derives its funds from a tax on petroleum products, pesticides and other specific chemicals.
The federal economic stimulus program has provided $3.4 million for such leaking underground storage tanks in Washington state. As I reported in the Kitsap Sun this week, work is beginning on a renewed cleanup at Country Junction Store in South Kitsap while a proposed plan would clean up soil near Hansville Store in North Kitsap. These are both small, community stores whose owners signed consent agreements with Ecology years ago.
It just so happens that the Washington Legislature has been
taking money out of the state’s toxics account to help balance the
state’s general fund budget.
According to a report by Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times, lawmakers diverted $180 million last year and Gov. Chris Gregoire proposes to pull out $80 million this year.
All this comes on the heals of a report exploring ways to finance the cleanup of contaminated sites across the state. The report was requested by the Legislature when it became obvious that existing funds would not be enough to pay for hazardous site cleanup, especially when money is being taken out for the general fund. Quoting from the report, called “Model Toxics Control Act Remedial Action Grants – Alternative Financing Evaluation”:
Demand for MTCA funds is increasing. While the grants have supported closure of many sites, a stream of new smaller projects and a growing number of larger, more complex cleanup projects continues. Coupled with the recent downturn in the economy, these trends have created a gap between the availability of funds and the real need. This situation has increased the uncertainty surrounding the future availability of MTCA funds and the subsequent need to use these limited funds more effectively than the traditional cash grant program.
If you recall, earlier this year environmental groups were proposing a higher fee on oil products to raise money to address stormwater problems throughout Puget Sound. Stormwater is considered the primary source of contaminants to the Sound, and holding back stormwater would effectively reduce toxics getting into the waterway.
Since then, the focus has shifted to tripling the existing MTCA tax of $7 per $1,000 on the wholesale price of hazardous substances. The new money — $13 per $1,000 — would go into other accounts, starting with 69 percent moved into the state’s general fund to help balance that out-of-whack budget. The rest:
- - 20 percent into a new account to address stormwater
- - 1.9 percent for oil spill prevention
- - 2.05 percent for the recovery of Puget Sound
- - 2.05 percent into a new State Clean Water Account
- - 5 percent into the Motor Vehicle Account for roads, trails and sidewalks
Under the current proposal, House Bill 3181, more of this new money would be shifted out of the general fund and into the stormwater fund each year — unless the Legislature changes its mind.
What we’re seeing is a lot of shifting of money as lawmakers try to plug a $2.7 billion hole in the state budget while offering environmentalists the hope of addressing Puget Sound cleanup in a meaningful way.
Let me know what you think about this shifty spending plan.