During tough economic times, the state Legislature has routinely taken money out of an account designated for cleaning up toxic sites in Washington.
This year, legislators transferred $29 million out of the cleanup account, known as the Model Toxics Control Act, and made another one-time shift of $9.8 million dollars, according to budget officials.
Now it’s time to stop, environmental advocates told legislators during a committee hearing on Wednesday.
Rod Brown of the Washington Environmental Council said the Legislature has been raiding the account for several years. “At first we didn’t like it, but 2007 was a horrible year and the recession was bad for everyone,” he said. “We were quiet.”
But things are different now. “We’re out of the recession,” Brown said. “The raiding hasn’t slowed down, it’s increasing.”
In 1988, Washington voters approved a tax on hazardous materials in order to fund the Model Toxics Control Act, or MTCA. The account provides the state Ecology Department with about $200 million each year to clean up contaminated sites throughout the state.
Carol Kraege of the Ecology Department told lawmakers that there are persistent problems with some of the state’s cleanup sites.
Commencement Bay near Tacoma was cleaned up using money from the MTCA account, Kraege said. After removing metals and other chemicals, the agency discovered the bay is being recontaminated by phthalates that are used in plastics and personal care products, she said.
In the Spokane River, the agency is still finding high levels of PCBs after cleanup efforts, Kraege said.
And in the Puget Sound, there are an increasing number of intersex fish — male fish with female egg proteins — that Kraege said could be a result of exposure to chemicals.
“Despite having some very progressive and outstanding programs to address toxics in the environment, we still have problems that we don’t really have the tools to address,” Kraege said.
TVW taped the House Environment Committee hearing — watch it online here.