Environmental agenda limited

OLYMPIA - The state's environmental community enters the 2010 state Legislature trying to hold the line on further cuts on the natural resources front.

The modest environmental agenda built in the face of a projected $2.6 billion budget deficit also advances two bills that failed to pass the 2009 session – a fee on petroleum products to pay for stormwater projects and another to phase out the use of a toxic chemical in baby bottles.

The state’s environmental programs could face further cuts on top of the 25 percent hit they took in the 2009-11 biennium budget passed last year.

“We know the state’s natural resource agencies are going to have to share the pain,” noted Bill Robinson, director of state government relations for The Nature Conservancy.

However, he said, the all-cuts supplemental budget Gov. Chris Gregoire released this month threatens core programs that ensure clean drinking water, clean air, habitat protection for imperiled species and cleanup of toxic sites.

For instance, Robinson said, the proposed supplemental budget diverts $81 million from the state’s toxics cleanup fund to the general fund, which is on top of $180 million that was transferred from toxics to the general fund last session.

“Environmental programs took such huge hits last year, they may be spared,” said state Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver. “But I don’t think anyone’s going to come away unscathed.”

Once again, the state environmental coalition of 25 nonprofit groups will push a bill to impose a fee on petroleum products that contribute to stormwater pollution, which is the No. 1 urban pollution problem in Puget Sound, said Dave Peeler, director of programs for People for Puget Sound.

The fee, which would be imposed on refineries, wholesale purchasers and others, would raise about $100 million to $120 million a year to finance stormwater pollution control projects.

The Working for Clean Water bill passed the House last year, but died in the Senate.

Part of the problem last year was that the bill arrived in the Senate on the last day of the session, Pridemore said.

“I think it has a good chance of passage this year,” the state senator said. “It helps local governments finance projects, it creates jobs and it protects the environment.”

The other 2010 environmental priority is the Safe Baby Bottle Act, which would phase out the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, food and beverage cans and other consumer products used by infants.

Laboratory studies have linked BPA to cancer, miscarriages, obesity, reproductive problems and hyperactivity, according to the Washington Toxics Coalition.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to restrict use of BPA, and opponents of the bill, including food processors and grocers, testified before state legislators last year that BPA allows for sterile, safe production of canned goods.