W.Va. Oil Train Derailment Has NW Lawmakers Thinking About Safety

Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.Tony Schick
Reports say up to 18 oil trains a week travel along the Washington side of the Columbia River, and up to six oil trains a week are traveling through the state of Oregon along the Columbia River and through central Oregon.
Tony Schick


By Courtney Flatt, OPB


This week’s fiery oil train derailment in West Virginia has lawmakers thinking about oil-by-rail safety through the Northwest. There has been a dramatic increase in oil trains traveling through the region to reach West coast refineries.

Committees in the Washington legislature are considering two bills. Senate Bill 5057 — supported by the oil industry — would expand the barrel tax to include oil shipped by rail. House Bill 1449 — supported by environmental groups — could change how oil-by-rail is regulated across the state.

“If there were to be an accident in Washington state, I, personally, would want to be able to say I did everything I could do to make sure that didn’t happen,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said during a Ways and Means committee hearing.

Oil safety bills are also moving through the Oregon Legislature.

Darcy Nonemacher, the legislative director for the Washington Environmental Council, said the recent derailment has more people thinking about how oil is transported.

“I think the lesson is that we do need to act. There’s lots of things that need to happen whether it’s at the federal, state, or local level,” Nonemacher said.

The train that derailed in West Virginia was hauling oil with newer tank cars. Those newer designs are supposed to better handle derailments than older cars.

That’s why oil-by-rail critic Eric de Place says oil transportation safety is a major concern.

“We need to just hit pause. We need to stop doing it until we have a way to transport that oil safely, which we don’t have right now,” says de Place, a researcher at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute, which doesn’t support oil-by-rail.

In Washington, the oil and rail industries are supportive of Senate Bill 5057. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will also take $10 million from the Model Toxics Control Account to allow the state Department of Ecology to provide grants for equipment and first responders.

“We believe it’s critical to implementing the policy in the underlying bill. We also believe this funding complements the efforts we have underway within the railroad to train locally first responder preparation efforts,” said Bill Stauffacher, with BNSF Railway.

House Bill 1449 would require planning for oil spill response in Washington state and it would require companies to disclose information about transportation routes.

E-cigarette use outpacing cigarette use among teens

Governor Jay Inslee gives sobering statistics for Washington youth

Snohomish County Health District 


SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. At a press conference Thursday morning, Governor Jay Inslee released preliminary data from the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey in which 23 percent of Washington’s high school seniors reported using e-cigarettes. Furthermore, high school sophomores were vaping at twice the rate of regular cigarettes. This represents a significant increase in e-cigarette use since the 2012 survey.

“What we’re seeing is alarming,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer and director at the Snohomish Health District. “The companies marketing these products are zeroing in on youth with ads featuring celebrities and other social media campaigns telling them that vaping is cool and safe. These are dangerous messages to send to our kids.”

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or vaping devices, represent a market that has grown exponentially since they were first introduced in mid-2000s. They are typically equipped with a battery, an atomizer, and a cartridge for liquid nicotine. There are more than 400 different brands of e-cigarettes and the liquid nicotine comes in more than 7,000 flavors, all of which can be purchased online. The devices can also be used with marijuana, heroin, and other drugs.

The devices are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, so manufacturers are not required to disclose product ingredients. In addition to the nicotine, vaping may expose users and by-standers to harmful toxins like lead and formaldehyde. It will take decades to fully understand long-term effects of e-cigarettes and exposure to vaporized nicotine and other drugs. 

“Nicotine is nicotine, regardless if smoked or vaped.  We can’t afford to let years go by before acting to protect teens from a lifetime of health problems,” said Goldbaum. “This is a drug that the U.S. Surgeon General has noted is just as addictive as cocaine and heroin. We need to do more to protect our children–it’s critical that our legislators do what is in their power to keep these harmful devices off limits to Washington’s youth.”

A bill is currently under consideration during this legislative session. If approved, it would require retailers obtain licensing for the sale of vaping devices, prohibit internet sales, ensure child-safe packaging, and restrict marketing and sales activities targeted at youth. It would also impose a tax on vaping products that would be on par with other addictive substances like alcohol and tobacco. Taxing tobacco products has proven to be one of the most effective strategies to reduce the use of harmful and addicting substances, particularly among youth.

The final 2014 Healthy Youth Survey data and reports will be released by the Washington State Department of Health next month.

Snohomish Health District works for a safer and healthier community through disease prevention, health promotion, and protection from environmental threats. To read more about the District and for important health information, visit 

Treaty tribes released 40 million salmon in 2014

The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe conducts its annual coho salmon spawning at the House of Salmon hatchery, November 2014.
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe conducts its annual coho salmon spawning at the House of Salmon hatchery, November 2014.


by Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission


Treaty Indian Tribes in western Washington released more than 40 million hatchery salmon in 2014 according to recently compiled statistics.

Of the 40 million salmon released, 13.7 million were chinook. Significant numbers of chum (16.9 million) and coho (8.6 million) were also released in addition to 658,00 steelhead and 456,000 sockeye. Some of the salmon released by the tribes were produced in cooperation with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state regional enhancement groups, or other sport or community groups.

Nearly all of the chinook and coho salmon produced at tribal hatcheries were “mass marked” by removal of the adipose fin — a fleshy extremity just behind the dorsal fin on the fish’s back. Clipping the fin makes for easy identification when the hatchery fish return as adults and are harvested. Many of the fish also received a tiny coded wire tag that identifies their hatchery of origin and is used to determine migration patterns, contribution rates to various fisheries and other information important to fisheries management.

You can view the data behind these salmon releases in the map below. By clicking on each circle, you can view more detailed release data:


A Coastal Community In Washington Contemplates Oil Terminals

A Quinault Indian Nation fishing boat comes in to unload its catch in Grays Harbor, not far from the locations of three proposed oil train-to-ship facilities. Ashley Ahearn/KUOW
A Quinault Indian Nation fishing boat comes in to unload its catch in Grays Harbor, not far from the locations of three proposed oil train-to-ship facilities.
Ashley Ahearn/KUOW


By Ahsley Ahearn, KUOW


HOQUIAM, Wash. — Grays Harbor, with its deep-water berths and fast access to Pacific Ocean shipping routes, has all the ingredients to be a world-class port.

In some respects, it already is. The Port of Grays Harbor once bustled with shipments of lumber from nearby forests. Next came cars, grains and biofuel. Now, local leaders are warming up to the idea of adding crude oil to the mix.

Roughly 3 billion gallons of crude move from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota into Washington state by rail each year. As oil companies look for the fastest and most cost-effective way to get their product to West Coast refineries, proposals for new oil facilities are popping up around the region.

Washington has five refineries. Four are already receiving oil by rail and the fifth is seeking a permit to do so as well. There are six proposed train-to-ship oil facilities in Washington and two operating on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

Three of those facilities could be built in Grays Harbor. That could mean more than 700 ships and barges arriving and departing each year and eight oil trains, empty and full, traveling through Grays Harbor County each day.

The proposed facilities present the community with some hard questions about economic growth, environmental risk and quality of life.

Oil On The Move

Forty-five permanent jobs would be created at the proposed Imperium and Westway terminals, with 103 estimated jobs in rail and marine operations, according to a report from the terminal companies. Information on the potential job creation for the third, and largest, of the proposed terminals is not yet available. That terminal is backed by US Development Group. It is in the discussion phase, according to the State Department of Ecology.

“These are projects that will provide jobs and economic development and tax revenue for Grays Harbor,” said Paul Queary, spokesman for Westway and Imperium. “They will help support the existing refinery jobs elsewhere in Washington and they will bring domestically produced oil to U.S. refineries and help maintain and increase U.S. energy independence.”

Imperium and Westway plan to move North Dakota crude on to refineries on the West Coast. U.S. law prohibits the export of domestically-produced crude oil. However, there’s no such restriction on exporting crude brought in from Canada. Canadian crude is already moving through the region  and more could travel through new terminals in the future.

Canadian oil producers are eager to find ways to ship their product beyond North America, suggests Tom Kluza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service.

“Really the biggest losers in the oil price slide have been the Canadians,” he said. “They are compromised by their inability to move that to any customers beyond the U.S.”

Despite the recent drop in oil prices, Kluza said the development of infrastructure needed to serve the oil boom in the North American interior — ports, rail capacity and pipelines —  is lagging behind the rate of oil production.  Canadian and U.S. oil producers need access to refineries and terminals in the Northwest, and the regional refineries need access to their product, particularly as output from Alaskan oil fields continues to decline.

“Whether [the Northwest is] the most hospitable is going to depend on the way the local communities and regulators look at the environmental consequences,” he said.

‘What’s a culture worth?’

Thousands of Dungeness crabs rustle and clack as they’re unloaded from the holds of fishing vessels at the Quinault Indian Nation’s docks in Westport, at the mouth of Grays Harbor.


Dungeness crab being unloaded at the Quinault Indian Nation docks in Westport, Washington. Almost a quarter of the  tribe is employed in the fishing industry.Dungeness crab being unloaded at the Quinault Indian Nation docks in Westport, Washington. Almost a quarter of the  tribe is employed in the fishing industry. Ashley Ahearn/KUOW


The Quinault reservation lies just north of Grays Harbor. Tribal members harvest crab and razor clams along the coast and catch salmon in the ocean and the Chehalis and Humptulips rivers. The tribe opposes the oil terminals. It says an oil spill from a ship or train could close shellfish beds or decimate fish populations. Almost a quarter of the tribe’s 2,900 members are employed in the fishing industry. Ed Johnstone, fishery policy spokesman for the tribe, says the value of that fishery to the Quinault is impossible to quantify.

“What’s a culture worth? What’s a history and tradition worth?” he asked. “You can’t put a number on it.”


The Quinault tribe says its treaty-protected  fishing rights are threatened by the risk of an oil spill. Its leaders say they’ll take legal action if necessary to protect the tribe’s fishery.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, says her tribe’s opposition isn’t just about the threat of an oil spill. The global burning of fossil fuels threatens the Quinault’s way of life, she said. Rising sea levels have forced the tribe to move part of its community inland. Last year the ocean broke through and flooded the lower village. The Olympic Mountain’ Anderson Glacier, which feeds the Quinault River, has almost disappeared.


A 1936 photo of Anderson Glacier, which feeds the Quinault River.A 1936 photo of Anderson Glacier, which feeds the Quinault River. Asahel Curtis


Anderson glacier in 2004. "Our glacier's gone," said Fawn Sharp, president of Quinault Nation.Anderson glacier in 2004. “Our glacier’s gone,” said Fawn Sharp, president of Quinault Nation. Matt Hoffman / Portland State University

“Each area and each region has, I believe, a sacred trust and a sacred duty,” Sharp said, standing beside tribal crabbers as they unloaded their catch. “When you are an elected official you need to make decisions that are based not only on the economics of a decision but the science, the culture, the history.”



Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, stands on the docks as tribal crabbers unload their catch. The tribe has vowed to fight the oil train-to-ship terminals  proposed for Grays Harbor.Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, stands on the docks as tribal crabbers unload their catch. The tribe has vowed to fight the oil train-to-ship terminals  proposed for Grays Harbor. Ashley Ahearn/KUOW


The Quinault and other area tribes have often been at odds with non-tribal fishermen. But the non-tribal fishing industry, which employs more than 1,000 people in the area, has joined  the tribes in opposing  the oil terminals.

‘If I hear one more time that this place has great potential, I’m going to puke’

The population of Grays Harbor County hovers around 70,000. Its working-class economy was built on the timber and fishing industries. But today the unemployment rate is higher than the national average. The percentage of residents with a college education lags below the state average.

More than 200 people lost their jobs when Harbor Paper in Hoquiam, Washington shut down in 2014.More than 200 people lost their jobs when Harbor Paper in Hoquiam, Washington shut down in 2014. Ashley Ahearn / KUOW

Al Carter has spent his entire life in Grays Harbor, working in the timber and manufacturing industries and serving as a county commissioner for eight years. He calls himself “an infrastructure guy” – always pushing for the things that make a community appealing to business development and economic growth.

“Sewer, water, roads, bridges, railroads, public safety, public transportation,” Carter counts out on his fingers. “Those are the things that make a community grow and if you build those things, then people will come to those places.”

Carter says it’s been a bumpy ride since the timber and paper industry here crashed. A few years ago the Port of Grays Harbor was courted by the coal industry to build an export terminal.


“If I hear one more time that this place has great potential, I’m going to puke,” Carter said, chuckling. “A new group of people come to town every year with a good idea, like, ‘Here’s what we should do!’ and my eyes roll back in my head. It’s like, ‘yeah, OK. Here’s your bucket and your shovel.’”

Carter’s not anti-oil or fossil fuels. He’s concerned about what hundreds of oil trains and ships each year will do to the identity of his community and its potential for future development.

“That much oil, all we’re going to be is an oil terminal. They’re going to dominate our landscape,” Carter said. “Nothing else is going to come here. Nobody else is going to want to come here. There won’t be any room for anything else.”

“Being Frank” Eating Fish Shouldn’t Be Risky

By Lorraine Loomis, Chair, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to change the cancer risk rate used to set state water quality standards from one in one million to one in 100,000. That is unacceptable to the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington. We refuse to accept this tenfold increase in the risk of getting cancer from known cancer-causing toxins, and you should, too.

The cancer risk rate, along with the fish consumption rate, are key factors in determining how clean our waters must be to protect our health. The more fish we eat, the cleaner the waters must be.

Water quality standards are supposed to protect those who need protection the most: children, women of childbearing age, Indians, Asian and Pacific Islanders, sport fishermen, and anyone else who eats local fish and shellfish. When the most vulnerable among us is protected, so is everyone else.

The federal Clean Water Act requires that states develop water quality standards to ensure our waters are clean enough to provide healthy fish that are safe for us to eat. But the state has been operating under outdated and inadequate water quality standards developed more than 20 years ago, and has missed every deadline since then for updating the standards as required by federal law. The state admits that its current water quality standards don’t adequately protect any of us.

Under his plan, Inslee would correctly increase the fish consumption rate from a ridiculously low 6.5 grams per day (about one bite) to 175 grams per day, the same protective rate as Oregon’s. But he would effectively cancel out that improvement by decreasing our protection under the cancer risk rate.

Further complicating matters, Inslee ties development of the new state water quality standards to a $12 million statewide toxics reduction program that will require legislative approval. That is unlikely given the $2 billion state budget shortfall.

Inslee’s proposal would also require the Legislature to grant the Department of Ecology more authority to regulate toxic chemicals. That is also highly unlikely given the Legislature’s historic reluctance to grant Ecology more power to control chemicals in our environment.

The plan also calls for revising standards for 167 chemicals that the Clean Water Act requires states to monitor in our lakes, rivers and marine waters. But standards for 58 of those – including cancer-causing chemicals like dioxins and PCBs – will stay the same.

At its core, Inslee’s plan does more to preserve the status quo than result in any real improvement to our water quality standards. It is a political solution to a human health issue. The concept of a larger toxics reduction program to tackle pollutants at the source is a good one, but it is not an acceptable substitute for strong water quality rules. We should have both.

We know that Inslee and previous governors have struggled with updating the state’s water quality rules for decades because of complaints by industry that new water quality rules could increase their cost of doing business. But an economy built on pollution cannot be sustained.

Fortunately, at the request of the tribes, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said it will step in to develop new standards this year if the state is unable.

EPA Regional Administrator Dennis McLerran announced in December that the agency will keep a close eye on the progress – or lack of progress – of the state’s effort to update our water quality standards. The agency has begun a rulemaking process in parallel with the state effort now under way. If the state develops standards acceptable to EPA, the agency will pause and work with the state to finalize the new standards. If the state is unable, EPA will continue its process and adopt new standards for the state.

This promise by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Regional Administrator McLerran demonstrates true leadership. They clearly recognize the federal government’s trust responsibility to protect the health and treaty rights of the tribes, which also benefits everyone else who lives here.

We appreciate EPA’s willingness to protect the integrity of our state’s environment and water-based resources that are central to human health and treaty rights. We hope the state will step up before EPA has to step in to make sure our water quality standards protect all of us.

For more information visit keepseafoodclean.org.

Culvert replacement costs loom as a budget problem for lawmakers

By Christopher Dunagan, Kitsap Sun Puget Sound Blogs 

While funding for Washington’s “basic education” remains a potential budget-buster, some legislators are beginning to worry about a $2.4-billion financial pitfall involving culverts and salmon streams.


Culverts that block significant habitat are represented by dots on the map. Washington State Department of Transportation
Culverts blocking significant habitat are represented by dots on the map of Western Washington.
Washington State Department of Transportation


In 2013, a federal judge ordered Washington state to replace nearly 1,000 culverts that block or impede fish passage along Western Washington streams. The $2.4-billion cost, as estimated by the Washington State Department of Transportation, amounts to about $310 million per biennium until the deadline of 2030.

Nobody has even begun to figure out how to come up with that much money, although the WSDOT has pretty well spelled out the problem for lawmakers.

In the current two-year budget, the state is spending about $36 million to replace fish-passage barriers, according to Paul Wagner, manager of the department’s Biology Branch. That’s not including work on major highway projects.

WSDOT is asking to shift priorities around in its budget to provide $80 million per biennium for fixing culverts.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee’s 12-year transportation plan calls for increasing revenues to provide money for various improvements throughout the state, including $360 million for culverts spread over the 12-year period.


BEFORE, where a 5-foot round culvert carried Twanoh Falls Creek under Highway 106. Washington Department of Transportation
BEFORE, a 5-foot round culvert carried Twanoh Falls Creek under Highway 106 into Hood Canal.
Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

Even if all that funding comes to pass, the state would only make it about halfway to the goal set by the court when the 2030 deadline passes.

Although funding is a serious matter, the effect of fixing the culverts sooner rather than later could boost salmon habitat and help with salmon recovery, transportation officials acknowledge.

Out of 1,982 fish barriers identified in the state highway system, more than three-quarters are blocking “significant” habitat — defined as more than 200 meters (656 feet). That’s from a fact sheet called “Accelerating Fish Barrier Correction: New Requirements for WSDOT culverts” (PDF 4.6 mb).


AFTER, a 20-foot bottomless culvert allows stream to flow more naturally Washington State Department of Transportation
AFTER, a 20-foot bottomless culvert allows the stream to flow more naturally.
Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation


As of 2013, the agency had completed 282 fish-passage projects, improving access to nearly 1,000 miles of upstream habitat. Another 10 projects were added in 2014.

Because the lawsuit was brought by 21 Western Washington tribes, the court order applies to 989 Western Washington culverts, of which 825 involve significant habitat. The case is related to the Boldt decision (U.S. v Washington), which determined that tribes have a right to take fish, as defined by the treaties, and that the state must not undermine the resource.

The court adopted a design standard for culverts known as the “stream simulation” model, which requires that the culvert or bridge be wider than the stream under most conditions and be sloped like the natural channel.

In an effort to gear up for culvert work, the Department of Transportation established four design teams to prepare plans for 34 fish-passage projects for the next biennium and scope out another 75 projects. State officials hope that by having teams to focus on culverts and bridges, design work will become more efficient. Agencies also are working together to streamline the permitting process.

In Kitsap County, the Highway 3 culvert over Chico Creek presents a real challenge for the department, Paul Wagner told me. Everyone recognizes the importance of Chico Creek, the most productive salmon stream on the Kitsap Peninsula. But replacing the undersized culvert with a new bridge would cost more than $40 million — more than the entire budget for culverts in the current biennium.


A culvert under Kittyhawk Drive was removed last summer next to the Highway 3 culvert. Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall
A culvert on Kittyhawk Drive was removed last summer next to the Highway 3 culvert, which continues to affect the flow of Chico Creek.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall


“There are a lot of culverts,” Wagner said, “and our challenge is that those on the state highway system are more complicated and involved.”

Not only are the state highways the largest, he said, but they usually cannot be shut down during construction. State highways typically have more complicated utilities and drainage systems, and work may require buying new right of way.

Those are all issues for Chico Creek, which was rerouted when the highway was built in the 1960s. The stream was directed into a new channel parallel to the highway, crossing under the roadway at a 90-degree angle.

The new design would restore the original channel, crossing under the road at a steep angle that makes for a longer bridge. The new route also could involve changing the interchange at Chico Way.

“That project is definitely one we need to get at,” Wagner said, “but it eats up a lot of the money we need for other projects.”

Removal of a county culvert under Kittyhawk Drive has increased interest in removal of the state highway culvert, which lies immediately upstream of the newly opened channel where the county culvert was removed. See Kitsap Sun(subscription), Aug. 26, 2014.

The Legislature will determine how much money will be allocated to culverts and to some extent which ones get replaced first. New taxes could be part of the equation for the entire transportation budget, a major subject of debate this session.

Number of Homeless Native American, Black Students in Washington State Increases

Simon Moya-Smith, Indian Country Today 


The state of Washington’s Native American and black K-12 students are three times more likely to be homeless than their white peers, a new study finds.

In the 2013-14 school year, 7.6 percent of Native American students in Washington were counted as homeless. Likewise, 7.6 percent of the black students there were also counted as homeless, according to a reportby the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

That same year, Washington’s Hispanic and Latino students suffered a 4.1 percent homelessness rate. In comparison, 2.3 percent of white students were counted as homeless.

The overall percentage of homeless K-12 students throughout the state jumped six points from the previous year, Joseph O’Sullivan of The Seattle Timesreported. During the 2012-13 school year, there were 30,609 homeless students. The next year, there were 32,494.

Elected officials in Washington are struggling with a recent state Supreme Court ruling to fully fund all K-12 schools, which threatens the funding to some social services programs.

“These numbers make it clear that funding education at the expense of the safety net is a false choice,” Rachael Myers, executive director of the The Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, told O’Sullivan in a statement. “Sufficiently funding basic education means funding what children need both inside and outside the classroom.”

Caleb Dunlap, Ojibwe, who worked with Washington’s Native American homeless community for three years as program manager for the Seattle-based Chief Seattle Club, a local nonprofit that works to provide homeless Natives with basic needs and services, told ICTMNhe believes the increase in homeless students is due to the spike in homeless families.

Dunlap said even the state’s health and human services information line, 2-1-1, where families in need can seek assistance, often falls short.

“All they’re telling you is ‘this shelter’s full’ and ‘that shelter’s full’,” he said. “They’re just giving you the run around.”

Dunlap added that the endemic of homelessness in Washington is punctuated by certain rules and regulations. The age of a child, for example, is reason enough to deny a parent access to temporary housing, he said.

“I would say that Seattle needs to provide better direct access to emergency shelters and temporary to permanent housing options for families facing homelessness,” he said. “Often family services can be limited due to the age of children. In the case of single mother families it can be harder for them to find housing placements if they have male children over the age of 13 due to often being in housing placement with domestic violence victims.”

Seattle, Dunlap said, was designated as a relocation city during the Indian relocation acts of the 1950s and ’60s. The acts encouraged Native Americans to relocate from reservations to cities with promises of jobs and vocational training. The city soon experienced a growing number of homeless Native Americans after some began to lose employment.

“They ended up not getting the very best jobs and that’s kind of where it started,” he said.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/01/20/number-homeless-native-american-black-students-washington-state-increases-158778

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.

Will Sonobuoys In The Pacific Help The Navy But Harm Whales?



By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

The Navy conducts training and testing in a stretch of the Pacific  roughly the size of Montana.

It wants to continue and expand its activities in these waters off the West Coast from Washington to Northern California. But first, the Navy must renew its permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The plan calls for detonating explosives, moving vessels, and deploying 700 more sonobuoys per year. And that’s drawing criticism from environmentalists who say the increased use of sonar poses increased risk for whales and other marine mammals.

Sonobouys are three-feet-long cylindrical floats are dropped from aircraft into the water. They use active sonar for the audible clues that can help them locate enemy submarines.

“It’s a critical mission for the Navy to be able to identify and locate submarines and utilizing these types of equipment is how we do that job,” said John Mosher, the environment program manager for the Navy in the Northwest.

The Navy says it keeps a lookout for marine life before conducting tests. It estimates that the added buoys will lead to more than 100,000 potential sonar exposures for marine life.

Mosher acknowledge that “exposure numbers” for marine mammals will increase if the Navy gets its way.

“But I’d like to stress that those exposures are at the low level of behavioral disturbance,” he added. “The animals may hear the device but it’s that simple. No injury, no long-lasting impact whatsoever.”

EarthJustice lawyer Steve Mashuda said increased use of active sonar will disrupt marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and calving.

“It’s behavioral disruption, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize this is happening over and over and over again,” he said.

Mashuda said the Navy is increasing the potential risk to marine mammals without increasing the precautions it’s taking to avoid harming them during testing.

Environmentalists takes particular issue with the Navy’s proposal to conduct tests within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It’s an area known to be frequented by blue whales, humpback whales, gray whales and endangered orcas.

“We have been saying for a long time that we’re not attempting to stop the Navy from training,” Mashuda said. “But what we are saying is there are areas on the coast, particularly the Washington coast, where we know that there are higher concentrations of marine mammals.

The Navy did not respond to requests to comment about its need to conduct testing exercises in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Navy recently has been criticized by residents of the Olympic Peninsula for proposing to conduct electromagnetic warfare testing in the Olympic National Forest.

Residents of the island communities in Puget Sound report recent increases in loud fighter jets, or “growlers” overhead.

The Navy is expected to release a final environmental review of its proposed marine training and testing activities this summer. The public will have a final chance to comment then.

In preparing that final review, the Navy is holding open house meetingsand taking submitted comments until Feb. 2.

Upcoming public meetings:


Grays Harbor College HUB

1620 Edward P. Smith Drive

Aberdeen, WA 98520


Isaac Newton Magnet School Gym

825 NE 7th St

Newport, OR


Eureka Public Marina, Wharfinger Building, Great Room

1 Marina Way

Eureka, CA 95501

Endangered newborn baby orca is a girl, experts say

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)
In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)


By Associated Press and KOMO News Staff


The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says the baby, part of the J pod of the southern resident orca population, has stayed healthy since it was first spotted Dec. 30 off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

The newborn whale is being called J-50. Researchers say they are now working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to gather more information about the baby’s mother.

Experts originally identified a whale in her early 40s known as J-16 seen swimming alongside the calf as its mother, but now say she might have actually been looking after the newborn for her daughter – a 16-year-old orca called J-36.

If J-16 is the mother, she will be the oldest southern resident orca to give birth in more than four decades of field studies.

Southern resident killer whales are considered an endangered species, with just 78 in the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, including the new arrival. But the arrival of the newborn orca is considered an encouraging sign following the death earlier this month of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.

Now, everyone is hoping J-50 survives. An estimated 35 percent to 45 percent of orcas die in their first year, said Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.