Refinery cancels xylenes project in settlement agreement – Skagit Valley Herold

There is some good news to start the year. The plan for a xylene refinery for overseas shipments is dead. The battle for keeping large scale chemical plants and shipments through the Salish Sea continues, but those who are hoping for less freighter traffic can take this as a tactical win. Of course, the Vancouver port for the Tar Sands crude is the real major threat, with hundreds of more tankers planned for shipping past the San Juans and through the Strait. Whatever could go wrong?


(12/31) A legal battle over a project at Marathon Anacortes Refinery has come to a close after a settlement agreement was reached under which the refinery will scrap its plans to produce xylenes for shipment overseas. The agreement was signed Monday by the Skagit County Board of Commissioners after it had been signed by representatives of the refinery and of various environmental groups that filed a series of appeals against the three-part project. Kimberly Cauvel reports. (Skagit Valley Herald)

Refinery cancels xylenes project in settlement agreement

Congress increases funding for Puget Sound Geographic Program to $33 million

More good news. Thanks to all who worked to push this forward, including Olympic Peninsula House of Representatives Derek Kilmer.This continues to show how expensive it is to recover the vast resources that we have mismanaged for more than a century. This money is all about ‘green’ jobs, as important as our military budget and other supposedly ‘sacrosanct’ parts of the budget that never seem to be questioned at all. We will need billions more as climate change kicks in, in ever larger ways. Luckily, our state and federal representatives seem to get it and are fighting for the money we need.

Attached are two announcements regarding funding for Puget Sound protection and recovery efforts, including:

  • Congress increases funding for Puget Sound Geographic Program to $33 million; and
  • FFY2019 Strategic Initiative Advisory Team (SIAT) Funding Recommendations and LIO-selected NTAs for National Estuary Program (NEP) Geographic Funds.

OLYMPIA— The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed a funding bill that will provide $33 million in FY2020 for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound Geographic Program, which is an increase of $5 million over FY2019 funding levels. The President is signing the bill into law on Friday.

The Puget Sound Geographic Program funds implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda, the long- term plan for Puget Sound recovery developed by the Puget Sound Partnership.

“We know what we need to do to recover Puget Sound, our salmon, and our endangered orcas,” said Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “This very welcome funding increase will help accelerate action on the ground to protect and restore this very special place.”

“We are excited to learn of the increase in federal funding for Puget Sound restoration,” said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish Farms and one of the business representatives on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board. “The support from Congress has been instrumental in achieving water quality upgrades in shellfish growing areas all around the Sound.”

The Puget Sound Geographic Program provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments to implement projects to improve water quality, enhance fish passage, increase salmon habitat, and protect shorelines. Several Washington State agencies manage programs to address the three Strategic Initiatives for Puget Sound preservation and recovery: storm-water, habitat, and shellfish.

“It is incredibly rewarding to have the federal government support the amazing work our region is doing to restore Puget Sound,” said Heather Bartlett, water quality program manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology, which leads the Stormwater Strategic Initiative. “Our state has dedicated millions of dollars to restore this critical ecosystem and protect our iconic orca, salmon, and natural resource economy. With this additional federal funding, we will continue to make progress towards a healthy and resilient Puget Sound.”

“The Puget Sound Geographic Program has played an integral role filling a critical funding niche in our regional recovery effort,” said Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Through the program’s Habitat Strategic Initiative, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with Department of Natural Resources, have slowly bridged gaps across institutional silos to achieve on-the-ground change. There is still much to be done, and this funding comes at a critical juncture for the ecosystem that supports our region’s imperiled salmon populations and Southern Resident Killer Whales. The program’s broad support really reinforces its significance to the health of our region, and this investment will continue to move the needle towards a healthier Puget Sound.”

“Many of Washington’s communities were built on our trademark salmon runs. Unfortunately, we’re seeing salmon runs decline, which is hurting our culture, our economy, and our iconic orcas,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the director of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. “I’m heartened to see increased federal investments in Puget Sound, and thankful that our state has such strong congressional leadership fighting on its behalf.”
Additional recovery initiatives receive funding

Puget Sound Partnership releases “State of the Sound” 2019

Let’s just let the Press Release speak for itself. Really, not good news after being chartered to solve this problem last decade. My comments are the highlighted bits.

NEWS RELEASE
December 2, 2019

MEDIA CONTACT: Jon Bridgman, 206.276.5309, jon.bridgman@psp.wa.gov

2019 State of the Sound Report issues a Call to Action for Puget Sound Recovery

The latest biennial State of the Sound Report, released this week, stresses that “…we can still recover Puget Sound, but only if we act boldly now.” This is the scientifically informed assessment of the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound.

The Report is clear that Puget Sound remains in grave trouble. The damaging effects of pollution, habitat degradation and disturbance persist. Southern Resident orcas, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and many other species are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Human well being is also affected, for example, by reducing fishing opportunities and threatening human health. Climate change impacts and continued population growth stand to increase pressures on an ecosystem already in peril.

The Report highlights the gravity of our current situation, but also emphasizes the outstanding work of our partners in recovery that has resulted in improvements in the condition of Puget Sound. As the Partnership’s Executive Director, Laura Blackmore states, “while this situation at times seems impossibly bleak, the thousands of passionate people who are devoted to seeing the return of a healthy and resilient Puget Sound give us hope.” This hope is exemplified with three inspiring stories of local communities coming together to advance recovery. The stories address 1) a project to pull up unnecessary pavement by hand at a Tacoma school, 2) a volunteer led effort to locate salmon blocking culverts in Clallam County, and 3) successful collaboration between fish, farm and flood interests in Snohomish County. Together they make a strong statement about how human well being and Puget Sound health are inextricably connected, and mutually reinforcing.

Sufficient funding for the priorities described in the Action Agenda for Puget Sound remains the biggest barrier to recovery. However, the Report’s Call to Action outlines many activities that governments and a range of other partners can do now, without additional funding. The recommendations in the Call to Action highlight how each of us must play our part, to bring the day closer when our rivers once again run clean and teem with salmon, and our shellfish are safe to harvest throughout Puget Sound.

The Report provides the latest information on the condition of the ecosystem—the Puget Sound Vital Sign indicators, made possible by the work of dozens of monitoring programs around the region—as well as statements from the Partnership’s Leadership Council and Science Panel. The Vital Sign indicators show that progress has been reported for 10 of the 52 indicators; however, only 4 indicators are currently meeting their 2020 targets.

This year’s Report also offers an enhanced website with a greater depth of content and data tools. A downloadable version includes both content from the website and further information on funding, legislative and policy developments, and other Puget Sound recovery management updates.

About the State of the Sound

The biennial State of the Sound report is intended to help our partners and decision makers better understand: (1) how well the recovery effort is going, (2) ecosystem health and progress toward Puget Sound recovery goals, and (3) the role each partner can play in achieving Puget Sound recovery. It also responds specifically to state statute (RCW 90.71.370(3)). This report reflects the work accomplished by hundreds of groups throughout the Puget Sound region, including governments, tribes, nonprofits, communities, scientists, and businesses. See www.stateofthesound.wa.gov.

About the Puget Sound Partnership

The Puget Sound Partnership is the state agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership brings together hundreds of partners to mobilize partner action around a common agenda (Action Agenda for Puget Sound), advance sound investments, and advance priority actions by supporting partners. For more information see www.psp.wa.gov.

A day in Seattle without a car

This is for those of you not living in Seattle, but who travel there. I was fortunate enough to get a wonderful sunny warm day to visit the city. I needed to get to a doctor appointment on Capital Hill, a Shiatsu massage following that near Yesler Way in the old Japanese district, and then back to the Ferry terminal.

I could have taken the bus, but the timing didn’t work out. There is a direct bus from the Port Townsend Haynes Park & Ride to Poulsbo, and from that drop off there are direct buses to and from the ferry terminal on Bainbridge. They cost less than $10 in total. I would have had to have left at 6AM though for an 11:30 appointment. I decided to drive and see friends while there in Bainbridge.

Since I cut it close with the ferry and the appointment, I took my first Lyft ride. After downloading the app and linking it to Paypal it was easy to book a ride.  I could have done a taxi after seeing the long line in front of the ferry terminal, and felt a bit guilty, but I had booked it on the ferry coming in. Cost $7.00. My parking in Bainbridge was $13.

After the appointment, I walked to Whole Foods for lunch and then to my Yesler Way massage. Distance, approx. 2 miles.I could have hopped on a trolley but the timing didn’t work and the weather was great. The area from Broadway to Yesler is undergoing massive urban changes with many new low rise apartments going in.  The city is rapidly becoming changed from the days when I lived there, up to 2005.

Following the massage, I walked to Yesler and found a Lime bike sitting there. I had never used one, followed the instructions, downloaded the app and ended up riding the Ebike over Yesler’s hill, past the old Yesler Terrace (which is being/has been torn down for more modern low income housing), and down to the ferry terminal. Cost? $3.75. Taken from my Paypal account. But better than that was that it was fun! Not riding with a helmet was wonderful, though I know some might balk at it. By the way, Yesler has a separate well marked bike lane on it, so you are not competing with cars very much. The Lime bike had plenty of power and good brakes when stopping and starting on a hill. It punches in to get you going then backs off once you are peddling.

What I learned is that while I love to walk Seattle, and usually do, if needing to get around quickly, beyond the usual bus transit, there are a wide variety of easy low cost ways to move around the city without bringing your car, especially if the weather is good.

 

Simulation shows how fast tsunamis could move through Puget Sound after ‘The Big One’ – The Olympian

Good new information on the danger of a tsunamis to us in the Salish Sea. This clarifies that you *have* to get to higher ground quickly, even if you think you are safe. Think about Kai Tai Lagoon and San Juan Avenue in Port Townsend. A fast moving 10 foot wave could easily swamp San Juan from both the North Beach side and the Port Townsend Bay side, coming at people from both directions as they were fleeing down San Juan. Don’t think it’s possible? Review the videos from survivors of the Japanese tsunamis.

The simulation shows 10-foot-tall waves or higher moving through Hood Canal.

Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

Sewage Treatment Appeal Filed in State Court to Protect Puget Sound

This has been a known problem and long running battle at the State level by environmental organizations since the early 90s. Standard excuses, too expensive to do, etc.  As stated to me by a knowledgeable friend, “Muni sewage plants and industrial facilities directly discharging to the Sound are supposed to have permits re-written every five years to “rachet down” on discharge pollutants as new technologies became available. EPA didn’t make the state do much more than some minor cosmetic remedies because municipalities said they’d have to raise rates and industries said the costs wouldn’t be worth the amount of pollution reduction of secondary.”  Who was running Department of Ecology in 1991 when that happened? The environmental champion, Christine Gregoire. And so it goes. The death from a thousand cuts.

“Olympia (WA) – An environmental group sued the Washington Department of Ecology in state court today in its bid to modernize pollution removal at Puget Sound sewage treatment plants. In January, Ecology refused to update its rules that allow dischargers to use 100-year-old pollution control technology while Puget Sound faces emergency levels of toxic and nutrient pollution.
“It’s well past time for the Department of Ecology to stop relying on 100-year old technology to protect Puget Sound,” said Nina Bell, Executive Director of Northwest Environmental Advocates (NWEA). “We’re not driving around in Ford Model T’s so why are we still using sewage treatment technology from that era? Modern sewage treatment would help clean up Puget Sound and protect struggling populations of Chinook salmon and orca whales,” she added.
NWEA sought a change in the 31-year old rules that Ecology uses to define modern technology by filing a petition with the agency on November 14, 2018. Ecology denied the petition on January 11, 2019. NWEA appealed the denial to Governor Inslee on January 30, 2019; he has 45 days in which to respond.
The petition explains that although Ecology has identified sewage discharges as the primary cause of some of Puget Sound’s biggest pollution problems, it has taken no action. Inadequate treatment of sewage is causing widespread algal blooms, low levels of dissolved oxygen, wholesale food web changes, ocean acidification, and toxic threats to orca whales, salmon, and crab according to Ecology’s own studies.
The petition is based on state law that requires pollution sources to use the best available treatment technology. The 74-year old Washington law, referred to as “AKART,” requires the use of “All Known, Available, and Reasonable Treatment” for pollution prior to its discharge.
NWEA’s petition details the widespread use of modern sewage treatment in the United States. For example, sewage treatment plants discharging to Chesapeake Bay and Long Island Sound have cut their nutrient pollution by almost 60 percent. In contrast, very few cities in the Puget Sound area have modern technology, and Ecology has only required one to do so—the LOTT treatment plant in Olympia.
Today’s lawsuit was filed in Thurston County Superior Court on behalf of NWEA by Andrew Hawl y, of the Western Environmental Law Center, and Bryan Telegin, of Bricklin & Newman, LLP.”

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