The Automotive United Trades Organization in Washington State is just the latest example of greed and shortsightedness by businesses wanting to make money but not pay the environmental costs to society of their doing business.
This week they filed a lawsuit to try to exempt themselves from the provisions of Initiative 97 – a popular Washington State initiative overwhelmingly passed by voters to cleanup toxic waste.
Former State Senator and also former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge is the attorney for the Automotive United Trade Association. It seems Talmadge is also willing to take the money as their attorney.
This is disappointing to say the least as Talmadge supported the original legislation, Initiative 97, and had courted progressives and liberals in his campaigns.
Initiative 97 was passed by Washington voters in 1988. The vote was a 2 step process, Voters approved the measure with an 84% yes vote, choosing the citizens alternative over a legislative alternative. The law has been in effect for 20 years. Citizens collected signatures to place I-97 on the ballot. The Legislature came up with an alternative that the oil industry supported because they would have had to pay less. Voters approved the measure with an 84% yes vote, then choose the citizens alternative over a legislative alternative by a 56% yes vote.
The current fight has come about because of efforts to increase the toxics tax to fund stormwater cleanup projects across the state.The bill is still under consideration in the special session. Oil industry officials are strongly opposing passing legislation to increase the toxics tax and threatened to take the issue to court if the Legislature increased it.
Now that the legislature is in Special Session, the oil industry has decided not to wait to see what the Legislature does but has gone ahead with the suit anyway. The suit has been filed by the independent gas stations association called AUTO. The action ends a 20 agreement by oil interests not to challenge the bill, which they agreed to when the legislature in 1988 put the industry alternative on the ballot along with the citizen’s version.
Currently before the legislature this year are two bills:
HB 3181 –Concerning the clean water act of 2010 funding cleanup of water pollution and other programs necessary for the health and well-being of Washington citizens through an increase in the tax on hazardous substances has 35 sponsors. The substitute house bill 3181 has been watered down such that it increases the 0.7 percent Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) rate by an additional 0.1 percent annually until the additional tax rate is 0.4 percent.” The original bill proposed increasing the tax to 2%. The bill still has not been acted on.
SB 6851 has 24 sponsors and has a substitute which proposes that
“Beginning July 1, 2010, the Hazardous Substance Tax rate is increased by 0.5 percent (combined tax rate is 1.2 percent).
The additional taxes are deposited as follows:
85 percent into a new Storm Water Account; and
15 percent into the Motor Vehicle Account.
A new Storm Water Account is created in the state treasury. DOE is responsible for distributing funds in the account to local governments as grants.
Revenues deposited into the Motor Vehicle Account must be used to fund activities or projects that address contamination of storm water through transportation infrastructure.
Revenues may not be used for construction of storm water facilities associated with new road construction”
The Senate also has taken no further action on this bill. Legislators should act to approve this legislation
The Environmental Priorites Coalition has listed passage of legislation to cleanup polluted storm water runoff as one of their three top priorities. They have labeled this legislation as the Clean Water Act of 2010.
The toxics tax has been used to clean up toxic substances caused by the use of toxic chemicals. Polluters should pay for the costs of toxic cleanup
Stormwater runoff is heavily polluted by petroleum products like oil and gasoline leaking from cars and trucks as well as pesticides and herbicides.
The oil industry is once again just trying to take the profits from the sale of gasoline and other oil products and take no responsibility for the environmental and health costs caused by the use of these chemicals. They would rather have taxpayers pay all the cleanup costs. The courts need to uphold the toxic cleanup tax and the Legislature is justified to use this tax to cleanup stormwater runoff. Legislators should act to approve this legislation now that would increase the tax.
(Note – In 1987 I was the Campaign Director for Initiative 97 and coordinated the signature drive by citizens to collect the signatures that qualified I-97. Steve Zemke)