The amount of oil and petroleum product reaching Puget Sound via stormwater runoff is considerably lower than estimated in a 2007 state Department of Ecology report, Ecology and business interests acknowledged Wednesday at a stormwater forum on the Capitol Campus.
But everyone attending the forum – including environmentalists and those with business ties – agreed that stormwater runoff is the biggest threat to Puget Sound’s health and will require a lot more money and coordinated effort to curb the problem.
As with any multibillion-dollar problem, the devil will be in the details, forum participants said.
The forum took place against the backdrop of identical bills sitting in House and Senate Ways and Means committees that would impose a 1 percent fee on the wholesale value of petroleum products, pesticides and fertilizers to raise more than $100 million a year for stormwater cleanup and pollution prevention.
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Similar bills failed in 2009 and 2010, but the concept remains a top priority for environmentalists.
“The bill is still alive,” said Mo McBroom of the Washington Environmental Council. “It’s helping bring the stormwater-funding question front and center.”
The Clean Water Jobs Act faces opposition from business and agriculture interests that feel they’re being singled out to pay for the program.
Opponents of the measure point to an Ecology study slated for completion this spring that will recalculate the amount of oil and petroleum-based products reaching Puget Sound in stormwater runoff each year.
The contribution was pegged at more than 22,500 tons in 2007, but field monitoring and other refinements of the project are bringing the number down.
“Petroleum was overstated in the Phase 1 report by some 99 percent,” suggested Grant Nelson, government-affairs director for the Association of Washington Business.
Nelson said opponents of the bill are urging legislators to reject it and to wait to consider new ways to fund stormwater-control projects after the Ecology report is completed.
Ecology officials took exception with Nelson’s assessment of the yet-to-be-released study.
“The amount of oil and petroleum products is going to be lower, but not down to 1 percent of what it was,” said Rob Duff, environmental-assessment director for Ecology. By volume, it remains the No. 1 toxic chemical in stormwater, he said.
Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director of Ecology, said the toxic-loading report for Puget Sound was never meant to be used to justify or reject the stormwater legislation, but rather was a way to prioritize stormwater pollution prevention plans.
Former Environmental Protection Agency director William Ruckleshaus said a successful assault on stormwater pollution will require cost-sharing by the federal, state and local governments, and careful setting of priorities.
“In today’s climate, with money short, you need to spend it where it gets the biggest bang for the buck,” he said.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org