It sounded like deja vu all over again: more bad news for beach-hoarding magnates who may employ gates, landscaping, fake garages and fake trespassing signs restricting access to public lands. A California court in late September ruled against Vinod Khosla, Sun Microsystems co-founder and clean energy investor, saying he couldn’t keep a locked gate to Martin’s Beach, reached along his Half Moon Bay property. Then Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill turning the screws on Khosla further. Still, the much-publicized case is but a speck of sand on the beach. There are 1,150 access points along the state’s 1,270-mile Pacific coastline, and many are tricky to find or use. The good news: fairly soon there’ll be a new way around that.
Collaboration in Civic Spheres
Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
by Matt Rosenberg October 15th, 2014
by Matt Rosenberg January 22nd, 2014
The minimum cost of complying with a 2013 federal court order to fix by 2030 some 1,019 Washington State Department of Transportation-owned culverts posing barriers to salmon passage will be a whopping $2.4 billion, lawmakers have learned. But “lack of future funding and technical complexity are creating obstacles to planning and delivery,” according to an agency presentation last week to the House Transportation Committee. Culverts are tunnel- or pipe-like structures embedded in soil to carry water, often salmon-bearing streams, under roads, railroads and trails.
Funding Sources Unclear Right Now
In an interview the Director of WSDOT’s Environmental Services Office Megan White, who led the agency presentation to the committee, said it’s not clear where the money might come from. But she said the first step this session is “talking to legislative leaders and decision makers about the challenge in front of us, in hopes there will be some focus” on developing a funding strategy.
$200M Eyed For ‘15-’17 Biennium
The agency is currently expecting to recommend inclusion of $200 million in in the 2015-17 state budget for court-ordered culvert work on project scoping, design and construction. WSDOT would expect to request successively higher amounts in following state budgets, and now has just about $20 million it can carry forward into the next budget for that, according to White. She added, “The level of funding goes beyond what the agency can provide from existing resources. We don’t want to be in the position of testing what non-compliance means,” with respect to the U.S. court order.
AG’s Office: Compliance Would Be A ‘Heavy Lift’
Senior Assistant Attorney General Joseph Shorin said the “sweeping” federal injunction poses a “heavy lift” for the state with a financial compliance burden that’s “extremely expensive.” Although the state is appealing, it also must at present proceed as if the ruling will stay in force, he said; there is no “stay” or suspension of the court’s directive during the appeal.
Public Data Ferret’s Washington State+Environment archive
Tribes and U.S. Sued State
In the case, U.S. v. Washington, 21 Native American tribes and the federal government sued Washington alleging that mid-1800s treaties guaranteeing tribes the right to take fish also require the state to avoid actions that reduce yields, but that improperly built or poorly maintained culverts under state roads have done exactly that. Some culverts empty back into the steam from too high a height or move water at too high a velocity, others are filled with forest debris.
The case area is roughly the northwestern third of Washington state and its many rivers and streams from which salmon swim to Puget Sound and to which they return – or try to return – to spawn. The federal ruling also includes a much smaller number of culverts overseen by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Natural Resources, and Washington State Parks, which must be remedied by 2016.
County, Local Barrier Culverts Are Many, But Not Included
However the targeted state culverts don’t include thousands more in Washington which also pose barriers to salmon passage but aren’t required to be fixed. According to another presentation to the committee last week by DFW, county and local government associations, another 2,264 salmon barrier culverts are operated by county governments and 783 overseen by cities in the case area.
With almost $300,000 in county and local fuel tax revenues DFW will help “inventory, prioritize and study” those barriers with results submitted to lawmakers by the end of June next year. The state, county and local governments are hoping to develop a coordinated approach based on watersheds, “prioritizing work up and down the streams that could have the largest impact on fish recovery.”
According to a presentation to the committee last week by Shorin of the AG’s Office, the court order directs the state to fix its salmon barrier culverts preferably by avoiding “the need for the roadway to cross the stream” or failing that, by building a “full-span bridge.” The last option is to use a ‘”stream simulation methodology.”
Private Sector Initiative
In the meantime, noted the Department of Natural Resources and the Washington Forest Protection Association in their own presentation to legislators last week, forestry companies and small landowners have spent at least $18 million to repair some 5,142 smaller salmon habitat barriers on private land, but at least 585 such projects remain. To date, 285 salmon barrier culverts overseen by WSDOT have been corrected.
The $2.4 billion estimate for fixing the remaining WSDOT culverts doesn’t include those identified as salmon barriers after the court ruling, nor does it include the 10 percent of the total that the court said can be deferred past 2030.
by Matt Rosenberg January 13th, 2014
Freight rail can continue to be a carbon-conserving boon to the environment and economy in Washington state versus higher-polluting trucked freight, and will benefit from at least $419 million in publicly-sourced improvements and repairs through 32 completed projects by 2018. But at least another $1.5 billion in identified freight rail improvements is needed by 2030 in the state, and likely more, with funding sources currently unclear.
Meanwhile, the main intercity passenger rail route serving Washington, the Amtrak Cascades train connecting Seattle to Vancouver B.C. and Portland, will see $744 million in investment by 2018, mainly from federal stimulus money for so-called “high-speed rail.” Overall, the state wants $6.7 billion for Cascades improvements by 2030 although the return on investment is far less evident than for the envisioned freight rail spending. These are among the key takeaways from 492 pages of information in nine newly-updated ‘technical notes” to the statewide rail plan. That plan is now being finalized by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The final version is expected to be online by month’s end but not necessarily with the technical notes, which currently are provided only to requesters.
by Matt Rosenberg December 23rd, 2013
Every year Washington’s economic data unit takes a good look at where the state ranks nationally on more than 40 key performance measures, and the latest report card came out late last week. It shows that in 2012 Washington had the cheapest business electricity in the nation, the third cleanest drinking water systems, was fifth best on research and development spending, remained third in foreign exports, and was in the top quintile on per capita visits to state parks and recreation areas. But our performance lagged on unemployment insurance and worker’s compensation costs, unemployment rate, condition of interstate highways, and college-going rates. We could also do better on air quality. Overall, our state leans more toward the second-tier of five, than first, the report suggests.
These are among the takeaways from the Washington State Economic Climate Study for 2013, issued December 20 by the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The idea of digging into the data, says the council, is that business is responsible for increasing productivity, but government policies help set the table for success. The study includes several dozen 50-state rankings on core indicators drawn mainly from blue-chip federal government data sources for the most recent and the four preceding years, plus explanations of how the measures are calculated and why they matter. Following are some highlights.
|Elec. Prices – Cmmrcl./Indstrl.||5||1||1||2||1||2|
|Exports, No Jets||6||8||8||8||7||9|
|State Parks & Rec. Site Visits||5||5||5||7||8||5|
|College-Going – 2 & 4-yr. schools||24||24||27||28||30||28|
Some Strong Points
Blessed with abundant hydropower, Washington’s weighted average industrial and commercial price of electricity per kilowatt hour in 2012 was 6.17 cents, the lowest in the nation. Idaho was next lowest at 6.27 cents. At the opposite end of the scale, highest prices after Hawaii and Alaska were in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and California. It was the third of the last five years that Washington had the lowest cost.
Washington in 2012 also held its rank as third greatest exporter in the U.S. measured in export dollar value as a percent of state personal income; bested only by Louisiana and Texas. Using that same yardstick but filtering out transportation equipment including Boeing foreign jet deliveries, the state ranked seventh in exports last year behind Louisiana, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Vermont and Alaska. The export data only includes trade in goods that are physically shipped, ruling out some software exports including most by Microsoft.
Clean Drinking Water
The state last year also ranked third lowest of 50 in percent of its population – just one-fifth of one percent – that was served by drinking water systems which were cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, either for exceeding maximum allowed levels of microbial, chemical or radiological contaminants under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act; or for violations of prescribed drinking water treatment methods. Only New Hampshire and Hawaii ranked better in 2012 and Washington is number one on the measure over the last five years combined, improving markedly since 2008 when it was just eighth best, according to the ERFC 2013 report.
Per Capita R & D Spending
Powered more by the private sector than government, Washington was fifth nationally in 2012 in total per capita research and development spending, exceeded only by Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Delaware. Washington’s five-year average rank is fifth.
State Parks Visits
The per capita rate of visits to state parks and state recreation sites in 2012 was far and away the highest in Oregon, followed by South Dakota, Hawaii, Alaska, Nebraska, Wyoming and Washington. The measure is based on total state parks and rec site visits including by tourists, versus the state’s population. Washington’s running five-year national rank is fifth.
But though Washington did well in some areas, it has room to improve its competitive standing in others, according to the Council’s new report.
Challenges include unemployment insurance costs, worker’s compensation costs, and unemployment rate.
Some High Costs of Doing Business; Plus High Unemployment
Washington slid in 2012 to 38th from 17th in 2008 in controlling the dollar amount of worker’s compensation costs per $100 of payroll. Over the last five years its average ranking is 20th.
It is improving somewhat in unemployment insurance cost contributions collected from employers as a percent of total wages of covered employees, from 44th best in 2008 to 28th best in 2012 but its five-year average ranking is still 42nd.
Washington’s unemployment rate of 8.2 percent in 2012 was only 33rd best in the U.S., the same as its five-year average ranking in that measure.
Our interstate highways are hurting, at least relatively. According to the new ERFC report, nearly seven percent of Washington interstate highway miles were in poor condition in 2011, the most recent year for which data were available. This puts the Evergreen State 44th of 50, a marked drop from the next most recent annual measurement in 2009 when it was 19th.
Not Competitive in College Enrollment
The state’s combined participation rate in two- and four-year colleges was another weak spot. Nationally, 6.4 percent of the population aged 18 and over is enrolled in two- or four-year colleges, versus 6 percent in Washington last year. That put the state 30th of 50, with a five-year average ranking of 28th.
Middling air quality
On air quality we ranked 22nd in 2012. The measure was percent of state population living in so-called “non-attainment areas” where the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards aren’t met. Metropolitan regions must for three years running meet NAAQS benchmarks on carbon monoxide, lead, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particulate matter and sulfur dioxide in order to avoid being classified as “non-attainment” areas. The state ranked first in 2008 but in every year since has hovered between 22nd and 25th.
Overall, the ERFC report suggests Washington comes out in the wash looking pretty much like a second-tier state, but that’s out of five tiers, or quintiles which divide the 50 states on individual and aggregate performance metrics. Washington’s five-year average combined ranking is 18th of 50 states in 16 “innovation driver metrics” in contrast to a new report from Bloomberg News based on seven metrics and one year that ranks Washington first in innovation.
The state ERFC report puts Washington ninth of 50 over five years, or first tier, in five “business performance” measures; but 21st, or high in the third tier, over five years on seven economic growth and competitiveness indicators. On 10 combined quality of life measures over five years, Washington ranked 16th, or second tier. A handful of measures in the report were not for 50 states, but major metro regions instead.
by Matt Rosenberg December 11th, 2013
A Toll Division Operational Review by the Washington State Department of Transportation released recently raises the idea of a state-regulated but privately funded and managed public utility that in theory could replace WSDOT so road projects can be financed more easily through means including bond sales not subject to legislatively-imposed limits on state government. Yet the notion is clearly less about action soon on any sort of deep structural change. It seems more intended to subtly prod a legislature slow to address systemic barriers to the current and quite arguably failing per-gallon gas-tax-based transportation funding model.
by Matt Rosenberg November 17th, 2013
For its Environmental Impact Statement on proposed all-lanes electronic tolling of part of I-90, Washington should consider not just a single alternative but a package of them carefully picked from the current menu which includes a regional vehicle mileage tax (VMT), more transit funding, and widening I-90; as well as a broader regional tolling plan, heavier tolling on 520 than now, and a state gas tax hike. So says the Environmental Review Manager of the U.S. EPA’s Seattle-based Region 10 office in a recent letter to the state. Meanwhile, the City of Mercer Island, at the center of growing opposition to I-90 tolls, is voicing support for a gas tax hike alternative favored by the State Senate Majority, while also signaling openness to a compromise involving HOT lanes, or partial tolling on the highway, free to multi-occupant vehicles and available to solo drivers for a toll. Like the EPA, the city is accenting the need to consider several alternatives implemented together.
by Matt Rosenberg July 30th, 2013
Fueled by growth in emerging economies led by China and India, global energy usage between 2010 and 2040 will jump 56 percent while carbon dioxide emissions from energy use will rise 46 percent, according to the “reference case” 2013 International Energy Outlook released in full today by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Fossil fuels will continue to 2040 to provide almost four-fifths of global energy used, according to the outlook.
by Matt Rosenberg July 25th, 2013
A Washington state appeals court in a ruling this week affirmed a King County judge’s 2011 dismissal of a suit by prominent environmental groups against the Puget Sound Regional Council transportation planning organization asserting it failed under state law to require adequate greenhouse gas reduction measures in its “Transportation 2040″ plan approved in May, 2010. The plan – covered here shortly after its release by our Public Data Ferret accountability reporting project and then in a Ferret KOMO-AM 1000 radio segment – said to address a more-than-one-third hike in population and a 51 percent boost in regional jobs by 2040 – that $189 billion more would be needed to get Seattle-region roads and transit fairly close to right by then. That would include $64 billion in new monies not yet secured, about half in taxes and fees, and half tolls.
Forty-two percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 came from transportation versus 26 percent nationally, according to the state’s inventory published last December. “T2040″ prescribed regional electronic tolling with higher charges at peak hours, and proposed some improvements to transit , biking and pedestrian infrastructure. It’s just a wish list from an advisory body with little real decision-making power but some important local and regional elected officials on its board. Political considerations still being calculated by state legislators are central. But tectonic shifts are underway in regional transportation policy, which may in the long run boost the green priorities sought by plaintiffs in the again-failed legal action.