Puget Sound pays price for BP’s spending in Olympia

May 12, 2010 | John Burbank

From the Everett Herald:

The news from the Gulf Coast just seems to get worse, with the out-of-control oil rig explosion spurting 210,000 gallons a day, the oil slick taking over beaches, the dome device that was supposed to contain the oil not working at all, and the possibility of continued oil eruption from the ocean floor for another three months. This would result in a 20 million gallon oil spill.

I have noticed a lot of sympathy here in Washington about this disaster, but, in reality, there is not a lot we can do. What we can do is make sure we’re prepared to prevent a similar disaster in Puget Sound and, in the meantime, clean up Puget Sound.

With population growth, increasing traffic and residential, commercial and industrial development, stormwater run-off is flooding the sound. Each day 140,000 pounds of toxic chemicals — including petroleum, copper, lead, zinc and PCBs — enter Puget Sound via our roads, driveways and parking lots. It’s our very own endless hazardous waste spill.

In 1988, the people approved by initiative the Model Toxics Control Act. This act funds hazardous waste clean-up through a tax on the wholesale value of hazardous substances, including oil. It makes sense — those very substances are what pollute Puget Sound. But the tax rate was set 22 years ago, and growth has outstripped our ability to protect the sound.

So a number of Democrats co-sponsored the Clean Water Act to clean up Puget Sound by raising more than $100 million a year for local stormwater infrastructure projects. The revenue would have come from increasing the tax on hazardous substances from 0.7 percent to 2 percent, or $13 for every $1,000 of crude oil.

Here is where the trouble started. The oil industry doesn’t want to be taxed for its petroleum production. So it persuaded the Legislature to drop this effort to clean up Puget Sound. BP was one of the main saboteurs. BP employs several lobbyists and lobbying firms to do their bidding in Olympia, including lobbyist firms with nice sounding names like Alliances Northwest and Tower LTD.

BP also has its own salaried lobbyist dedicated to keeping watch over the Legislature. Their man in Olympia is William Kidd, whom BP pays $120,000 a year to prevent any new taxes or regulations from becoming law. He also has an expense account to wine and dine legislators. For example, Kidd took Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, out to dinner on July 12 in Boise. He took Morris out to dinner again on July 14. And again on Sept. 2. And again on Nov. 4 and Nov. 5 in Regina, Saskatchewan. And again on Dec. 8 in San Diego. (Lobbyist expenses are public records in Washington, and available at www.pdc.wa.gov.)

What’s all the interest in Jeff Morris? He is the speaker pro tem, sort of like vice president of the House of Representatives. He also sits on the House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee, which deals with energy production. He is the CEO of Energy Horizons, which is sponsored by the oil company ConocoPhillips, and by the giant utility Pacificorps, among others. Morris’ district includes Anacortes, home of two oil refineries, and is close to two more refineries, including the BP refinery in Blaine recently cited for 13 serious safety violations.

So why not wine and dine Rep. Morris and make sure that a word here or there could cast doubt about legislation for cleaning up Puget Sound? It is money well spent. BP refines 225,000 barrels of crude oil a day in Washington. The Clean Water Act would have cost BP at least $200,000 a day in new fees. Paying Kidd $120,000 a year and picking up the meal tabs for a few legislators was a wise investment — for BP, not for us. Not for Puget Sound. And not for our future.

So as the BP blow-out continues to foul the Gulf Coast, and the efforts to cap the eruption continue to fail, we can rest assured that should a major oil spill occur in our Puget Sound, we too will share the gulf’s predicament of not having the resources to clean up the mess. And we too have failed to garner the revenues to stanch the ongoing and increasing destruction of Puget Sound through stormwater runoff.

BP is obviously not, as its logo states, beyond petroleum. And with $16.7 billion in net profits in 2009, who’s to complain?

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Posted in Column, Tax and Budget

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