EPA Response to Industry Phase-Out of DECA-BDE

I worked hard (successfully) to eliminate the use of this chemical in Washington. The ban spread to other states. The companies have finally thrown in the towel and are switching to a presumably better product. It’s nice to win one every now and then. DECA-BDE is incredibly bad for children and more than a million pounds a year were imported into Washington.

EPA Reaction to DecaBDE Phaseout Announcement

WASHINGTON – As a result of negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, several companies announced today they will undertake a three year phaseout of decabromodiphenyl ether (DecaBDE), a persistent and toxic chemical that has been used as a flame retardant in consumer and other products.

Steve Owens, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances, issued the following statement in response to the announcement:

“Though DecaBDE has been used as a flame retardant for years, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has long been concerned about its impact on human health and the environment. Studies have shown that decaBDE persists in the environment, potentially causes cancer and may impact brain function.  DecaBDE also can degrade to more toxic chemicals that are frequently found in the environment and are hazardous to wildlife.

“Today’s announcement by these companies to phase out decaBDE is an appropriate and responsible step to protect human health and the environment.”

For more information, please visit:  http://www.epa.gov/oppt/pbde/


Urban Legends – Emissions based on engine displacement

In 2006 a senator introduced a bill (SB 6900) that would have charged a vehicle registration fee every year based on the size of your engine and not on the use of the vehicle. The bill did not receive a hearing, did not come up for a vote, and never passed. It does not even exist in this legislative session. Nevertheless I continue to get 20+ emails a week on the issue.

While providing incentives to people to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles may be reasonable policy, I’m not fond of this bill. There is a federal gas-guzzler tax that is much larger than this fee. If that doesn’t work our fee wouldn’t either. You also need to consider usage. I own a full-size Ford F-150 pickup with a V-8 engine. I drive it about 3000 miles a year hauling stuff places. The truck is 10 years old and I expect to pass it down to my kids with less than 100,000 miles on it a long time from now. My wife’s Prius generates more emmissions because she drives it a lot more.

I voted for aligning us with the California emmissions standards to try to keep us from filling the air with needless particulates, but I think this bill doesn’t work. I didn’t support it in 2006, and I wouldn’t support it now.

Please stop sending me email about this dead bill. Also, there are no alligators in the sewer system.

More Toxic Chemicals

In 2007 I passed a bill I had worked on for 3 years, banning a toxic flame retardant called PBDE in Washington. This year a group of legislators is working on a different compound – Bisphenol-A. It’s found in polycarbonates and other hard, clear plastics, and like PBDE, it damages the reproductive systems of human beings.

I’m not working on the bill, but I have gone out and replaced all my plastic water bottles with ones that are Bisphenol-A free. I recommend you do this as well. I came across an article in FastCompany magazine that explains the issue in great detail, and lays out the tactics the chemical industry uses to gin up fake studies that purport to show that their products are safe. It’s worth reading.

FastCompany: The Real Story on Bisphenol-A

2009 Legislative Agenda

This year will be particularly difficult due to the national economic disaster. Unlike the federal government, Washington is required to have a balanced budget. Our budget situation is dire, and will require dramatic measures.

I try to be organized about how I approach a legislative session, particularly one as difficult as this is likely to be. It’s easy to lose track of where you are and what you want to get done. While there are lots of small items I’m working on, these five rise to the level of weekly review.

First, we have to deal with the budget problem. This is both a tactical problem of responding to the national economic disaster and a strategic opportunity to re-focus state government on what it’s good at and get it out of the business of things it’s not good at. This budget will be incredibly painful, and will hurt a lot of the people I came to Olympia to champion, but we will do what we have to do to have a sound financial footing for the state. We will come out with a leaner government focused very carefully on our priorities. We’ll prioritize the parts of the budget that are investments in the future like education, and we’ll try our best to preserve the safety net for the most vulnerable: seniors, at-risk kids, and those who are displaced by the crazy national economy through no fault of their own.

Second, we have to deal with one of the strategic priorities for the state: education funding. Our constitution is very clear that education is our paramount duty. I’ve been working with a bipartisan group of legislators for the last 18 months to pull together a plan that changes our current system from an opaque, confusing, overly complex and inadequate set of formulas to one that is much more transparent and simple — a system that clearly delineates what we need to fund and how we should do it. This will be my major policy effort this year.

Third, it’s not often that you get a chance to play an important role in one of the pivotal moments in American History. This year is one of those — America has the opportunity to shift our economy to be much less dependent on foreign oil and at the same time shift to an economy that doesn’t contribute to the global warming problem. States have a responsibility to be part of the solution. Washington will have an opportunity this year to be part of the Western Climate Initiative, a joint effort of the major states in the west and big chunks of Canada. Doing a “Cap and Trade” system right is an opportunity for major changes in energy use and climate change, but is also an opportunity for one of the biggest transfers of wealth from consumers to polluters in history if done wrong. Getting the details right on this is crucial, and I’ll be following it closely.

Fourth, we are in the middle of a set of transportation decisions that are crucial for our district: the 520 bridge plan, how tolling will work, the viaduct, and keeping the focus on 405 work. We have to make sure that decisions on the Seattle side don’t push up the costs (and thus the tolls) beyond what we can afford, and we need to get it done. Now that Sound Transit Phase 2 has been approved we need to make sure it makes sense for the Eastside. I’ll be pushing for them to start over here with the section from Bellevue to Redmond. This enables us to link up with the BNSF line north through Redmond, avoiding the difficult Kirkland route, and will help drive the redevelopment of the Bel-Red corridor. More on this in the next update.

Finally, there are a number of wonky tax policy efforts I’ve been working on for a few years that will come to fruition this year. It’s not an optimal time to make changes in the tax code, but we should do these anyway. As more and more of the products we buy become digital, the tax code needs to grow and change to reflect this and to maintain fairness across different means of distribution. I’ve spent 18 months leading a joint effort with the business community to change the tax policy here and expect to pass a relatively non-controversial bill this year, even though it’s a pretty big change.

Global Warming – Cap and Trade?

Last year the legislature instructed the governor to negotiate our entry into the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) and come back with a plan we would have to approve. She has, and now we get to make some very big choices for Washington and the rest of the country. The WCI is a “cap and trade” system, a way of using market forces to control the amount of carbon we emit, and consequently the amount of global warming we create.

A cap and trade system puts a cap on the amount of carbon that can be emitted by creating a set of “allowances.” You can think about these as pollution permits. If you’re going to emit carbon you need a permit for the amount you generate. These permits can be bought and sold, and in a pure system we would auction them off, effectively setting a price for carbon emissions. The polluters who can most cheaply limit their emissions will do so, and will buy relatively few permits. For some companies it will be much more difficult. They’ll buy more permits.

Since half of the carbon emissions in WA come from transportation uses, this will affect all of us individuals too. The permits would have to be purchased by fuel importers, raising the price of gasoline and diesel.

Over time the number of permits would be reduced, causing the price to rise. We may not be able to completely eliminate emissions, but we can take a big whack out of them. The rub here is that the price may rise quite high. This would generate a LOT of revenue for the state, and create huge pressure to spend the revenue on all kinds of things tenuously connected to climate change. I propose sending the money back to taxpayers as a “climate dividend.” We would then be just changing the relative price of things to incorporate the actual costs carbon emmissions cause for the rest of us, but not extracting revenue from the economy.

There are a lot of technical details in designing a system that would actually work. I’m concerned that in trying to do the right thing here we may inadvertently create the biggest transfer of wealth from consumers to polluters in the history of mankind. I will be pushing for a very “pure”
system, and won’t vote for one that looks more like a pork barrel than a climate change proposal.

For more information on this I recommend the overview of cap and trade systems published by Sightline, one of the wonkier thinktanks in WA. I love the work these guys do, and can’t recommend them highly enough.