Wash. Lawmakers Kick Off Session With Work On Oil-Train Safety

 

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

 

Washington lawmakers made oil-train safety one of the first big issues to tackle this session, holding their first hearing Thursday on ways to prevent and prepare for the possibility of a spill or derailment.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, introduced his bill first, followed by a bill from Democrats, at the request of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The bills are being heard in this afternoon’s meeting of the Senate Committee on Energy Environment and Telecommunications.

The hearing comes four days into the current session of the Washington Legislature.

Northwest states have seen a dramatic increase in oil-train traffic as more crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch is being sent to West Coast refineries.

Ericksen’s bill requires the Department of Ecology to take charge of the review of oil-spill response plans and provide grants for equipment for first responders. He’s proposing to funnel $10 million from the Model Toxics Control Account  into the Department of Ecology to pay for those grants. The bill also expands the current tax of 5 cents per barrel on oil that arrives in the state. Currently it applies only to those brought in by ship, but would apply to oil-by-rail under Ericksen’s plan.

In Thursday’s Hearing Ericksen said his bill isn’t strictly focused on reducing risk of an oil-train disaster.

“I believe this piece of legislation is a big step towards helping us achieve energy independence in North America and doing it in a way that will protect the citizens of Washington state,” he said.

Representatives of oil and rail companies testified in support of Ericksen’s bill.

Environmentalists  weren’t so pleased with Ericksen’s bill.

“From our standpoint it simply lacks meaningful safeguards necessary to protect our communities in the face of this growing threat that we see to our land, our waters, from the movement of oil trains,” said the Sierra Club’s Bruce Wishart.

Ericksen’s bill does not extend the barrel tax to oil that arrives by pipeline, nor does it increase transparency requirements from oil and rail companies, as Gov. Jay Inslee’s bill does.

The governor’s bill, supported by several fellow Democrats in the Legislature, imposes new rules on tanker and barge shipments, and further extends the oil-spill taxation program to pipelines. It also grants greater authority to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission to increase staff and inspections along oil train routes through the state.

“Transparency and safety need to be the focus of our efforts here in Olympia,” said  Tulalip Sen. John McCoy, the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee’s ranking Democrat. “We can’t put the interests of the oil industry over the safety of our impacted communities.”

Although the federal government alone has the authority to impose many safety measures, the democrats argue that states do have control over some key aspects related to transparency, accountability and taxation. The Washington Department of Ecology conducted a study in 2014 to evaluate the risks associated with the vast increase of oil transported by rail through Washington. The final report is due in March.

Inslee’s bill did not get a hearing Thursday. Ericksen said he looks forward to further discussion on his bill in the Senate.

U.S. Senators Urged to Act on Bill to Preserve Future of Indian Gaming in Arizona

 

H.R. 1410 will uphold current compacts, the will of the voters and tribal commitments 

Source: Casino Arizona/Talking Stick

 

PHOENIX.—July 23, 2014— Congress has the power to intervene in a growing national practice and problem of ‘off-reservation gaming,’ or ‘reservation-shopping.’ The topic was at the heart of an oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs today, titled, “Indian Gaming: The Next 25 Years,” and included discussion of H.R. 1410—the bi-partisan bill to solve the problem faced by the city of Glendale in Arizona, that will protect the integrity of Indian Gaming in the state, but would also be a beacon to cities and towns across the U.S. that find themselves in similar circumstances.

A prelude to a vote on H.R. 1410 by the U.S. Senate, today’s hearing included testimony from Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) President, Diane Enos and City of Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, excerpts from their testimony follow, full transcripts can be found at www.indian.senate.gov.  

SRPMIC President, Diane Enos opened her remarks, by saying, “For over 20 years Arizona Indian Gaming has been stable, predictable, and successful.  However, sadly, its future in Arizona does not look good.  It is threatened by the actions of one tribe.  H.R. 1410, the “Keep the Promise Act,” which is pending before the Committee, will help protect Indian gaming in Arizona.  We respectfully urge the Committee to pass it.”

SRPMIC President explained to the Senators that private non-Indian gaming companies were always hovering over Arizona looking for an opportunity, a loophole, to overthrow Indian Gaming exclusivity, but that today, that exclusivity, and the current Indian Gaming compacts were jeopardized from within, by the Tohono O’odham Nation:  

“This plan by the Tohono O’odham of building an additional casino in the Phoenix-metro area directly violates promises that they made, that other Arizona tribes made, and that the Governor of Arizona made to citizens who approved our compacts in November 2002,” stated Enos.  In 2002, then-Governor Jane D. Hull announced that the compacts she and 17 tribes had negotiated for two and a half years  – if approved by the voters – would ensure  there would be “no additional casinos allowed in the Phoenix metropolitan area”.  This promise of “no additional casinos in the Phoenix-metro area” was made by Tribes and the Governor over and over to the voters, Enos said, “because we believed it.”

City of Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers addressed the powerlessness of local government in this situation, saying, “Our choice was not ideal: continue to fight and hope for action from this body, or give in to this casino being forced on us.  It is frustrating to be a city of our size and have no voice on a casino proposed by a tribal government more than a hundred miles away.”

Weiers also spoke up about what this means for other cities, “Our sister cities know that unless Congress acts, they may be next.  There are over 200 other county islands in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  And the Tohono O’odham Nation attorneys have said the Tribe has the right to close its existing three casinos and open them on these county islands.  We are a test case, but it is the start of a very slippery slope.  If Congress does not act, the entire Phoenix area should be prepared for more off-reservation casinos.”

Obama Signs Northwest Lawmaker’s Bill For Toxic Algae Research

Algae bloom in the Pacifi Northwest.  credit: Ashley Ahearn, 2012

Algae bloom in the Pacific Northwest. credit: Ashley Ahearn, 2012

By David Steves, OPB

A Northwest lawmaker’s battle against toxic algae blooms won the support of President Barack Obama Monday, when he signed into law a bill aimed at controlling such outbreaks.

Oregon congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Florida Sen. Bill Nelson co-sponsored the bill, which authorizes $82 million dollars for new research meant to control toxic algae blooms nationwide.

The advocacy group Ocean Champions applauded the effort from Congress and the White House. The group’s president, David Wilmot, issued a statement saying it costs the nation about $100 million dollars a year to deal with toxic algal blooms.

Bonamici said during her floor testimony in the House that she got behind the legislation after learning that toxic algal blooms were leading to yearly die-offs of Dungeness crabs in Oregon. She also said climate change was making the problem worse.

“This will become increasingly important as coastal populations increase and changes in the environment, such as warmer water temperatures, have the potential to alter the growth, toxicity and geographic distribution of algal blooms,” Bonamici told her House colleagues.

Northwest waters have been hit by a number of these outbreaks in recent years. Toxic algae has contaminated Washington’s Puget Sound and several lakes in Oregon, including Fern Ridge and Lost Creek reservoirs.

Algal blooms have also made shellfish unsafe to eat and have been harmful to salmon. Public health agencies have had to close beaches to shellfish harvesting and issued no-swimming restrictions for lakes in the Northwest because of such outbreaks.

Tester Aims to Fight Homelessness Among Native Veterans

 A homeless veteran who declined to be identified speaks with an outreach worker, not pictured, under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia, Wednesday, January 26, 2011.

A homeless veteran who declined to be identified speaks with an outreach worker, not pictured, under an overpass during a winter storm in Philadelphia, Wednesday, January 26, 2011.

 

Source: Jon Tester’s Office Release

 

Senator Jon Tester is helping to launch a new initiative to fight homelessness among Native American veterans.

Native Americans volunteer for America’s military at some of the highest rates in the nation, but Indian veterans often struggle to get the support services they earn – including safe, affordable housing.

Tester, Montana’s only member of both the Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Indian Affairs Committees, is working to change that by helping to add a provision to a funding bill that calls for new initiative to reduce homelessness on tribal lands.

Tester’s initiative would make HUD-VASH funds – which help veterans find housing arrangements where they also are able to receive additional resources to address the root causes of homelessness – available to Native Americans living on tribal lands. It is estimated that at least 2,000 veterans served by VA homeless programs live on tribal lands.

“Native Americans are some of this nation’s most dedicated military men and women, and they shouldn’t have to struggle with homelessness when their service is over,” Tester said. “This initiative will help more veterans get a roof over their heads and the support they need to get back on their feet and contribute to our communities.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides the housing vouchers through the HUD-VASH program and works with local housing and support groups to provide eligible homeless veterans with services that aid recovery from physical and mental health conditions resulting from homelessness. However, tribally-designated housing entities are currently ineligible to receive and administer these vouchers.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Tester pushed for HUD-VASH funds to be made available to tribal housing authorities to assist Native American veterans in securing safe, reliable housing. The committee is responsible for funding the federal departments and agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Tester became the Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee earlier this year. Since then, he has held hearings on Indian health, tribal transportation, Indian education, energy development, and trust lands.

The funding bill, which passed the Appropriations Committee recently, will next be considered by the full Senate.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/11/tester-aims-fight-homelessness-among-native-veterans-155242

Fish Wars bill clears Senate, heads to governor

Billy Frank junior, a Nisqually Tribal elder passes out hugs in 2011 to students at Wa He Lut School in Nisqually. The school sits just off the Nisqually River at Franks's Landing, once the frontline of the Northwest fish wars in which Billy Franks was arrested many times for fishing off the Nisqually reservation. (The News Tribune file) DEAN J. KOEPFLER

Billy Frank junior, a Nisqually Tribal elder passes out hugs in 2011 to students at Wa He Lut School in Nisqually. The school sits just off the Nisqually River at Franks’s Landing, once the frontline of the Northwest fish wars in which Billy Franks was arrested many times for fishing off the Nisqually reservation. (The News Tribune file) DEAN J. KOEPFLER

By Lisa Bauman, Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. — American Indian tribal members arrested while exercising their treaty fishing rights before 1975 would get the chance to clear their criminal records under a bill headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

House Bill 2080 passed the Senate unanimously Wednesday. It passed the House in February.

The measure would allow tribal members to apply to the sentencing court to expunge their related misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions. Family members and tribal officials could also seek a vacated criminal record on behalf of a deceased person. The court would have the discretion to vacate the conviction, unless certain conditions apply, such as if the person was convicted for a violent crime or crime against a person.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the bill corrects a mistake.

“It’s the closest this branch of government can come to an apology,” he said.

Tribal members and others were arrested in the 1960s and 1970s while asserting their right to fish for salmon off-reservation under treaties signed with the federal government more than 100 years before. At the time, however, those acts violated Washington state regulations, and there were raids by game wardens and other clashes with police. The Northwest fish-ins known as the “Fish Wars” were modeled after civil rights movement sit-ins and were part of larger demonstrations to assert American Indian rights nationwide.

Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, said he knew a tribal elder who wanted to travel to Canada but couldn’t due to a felony conviction for asserting his fishing rights.

“He’s passed away but I’m sure his family members would appreciate it,” he said of the bill.

Read more here: http://www.theolympian.com/2014/03/05/3018302/senate-oks-fish-wars-bill-heads.html#storylink=cpy

Triple threat: Obama orders federal agencies to boost clean energy use threefold

Lisa Hymas, Grist

Two bills in the Senate would require the country to get at least 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025, but neither has a chance in hell of making it to Obama’s desk. Thanks, Republicans! So the president is doing what he can without approval from Congress: requiring the federal government to get more of its power from renewable sources.

From NPR:

President Obama says the U.S. government “must lead by example” when it comes to safeguarding the environment, so he’s ordering federal agencies to use more clean energy.

Under a presidential memorandum out Thursday, each agency would have until 2020 to get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable supplies. …

Agencies are supposed to build their own facilities when they can, or buy clean energy from wind farms and solar facilities. …

The memo also directs federal agencies to increase energy efficiency in its buildings and its power management systems.

The U.S. government currently gets about 7.5 percent of its electricity from renewables, so the new goal would almost triple that percentage.

With today’s memorandum, Obama follows through on a promise he made in his big climate speech in June. We’re looking forward to him keeping the rest of the promises from that speech.