Washington state unites against oil spills and fish spills | Guest Column

Submitted by Stephanie Buffam

Executive director, Friends of the San Juans

The passage of SB 6269 marks another critical step forward to increase Washington state oil transportation safety. Similarly, the phase out Atlantic salmon net pens in Washington received significant bi-partisan support.

These bills represent a victory for Washington state and the Salish Sea. It is a call to decision makers in Washington and British Columbia that our shared waters should reflect sound science and multi-agency coordination. Our fish and wildlife don’t stop at the border nor do oil or fish spills.

“The legislature showed that protecting the health and safety of our shared waters goes beyond party lines and fish spills and oil spills are concerns every Washingtonian understands. Considering the growing volume of tar sands traveling through our region, it is imperative for the health of our communities to have adequate funding for preventing spills. These votes send an important message that Washington State takes the risk posed by oil spills and fish spills in our waters seriously and we will do what it takes to protect the Salish Sea,” stated Stephanie Buffum, Friends of the San Juans Executive Director.


Oil Spill Prevention Act: With bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, the state Legislature passed the Oil Spill Prevention Act. The House vote was 62-35 and the Senate vote this past weekend was 42-7. This bill was part of a multi-year effort to institutionalize strong protections to prevent and prepare for oil spills. This includes ensuring that the oil industry is on the hook no matter what mode is being used to bring crude oil into our state, strengthening our public engagement and transparency tools, and ensuring that the state has the resources it needs to stay on top of the threat.

The bill was sponsored by Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, and passed with leadership in the House from Representative Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, and Representative Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle. The important steps forward in this bill include:

– Closing a tax loophole for oil moving by pipeline, which accounts for up to 40 percent of the oil moved in Washington state. This ensures all modes of transporting oil are taxed at the same rate to support the prevention and preparedness work of the state.

– Strengthens Puget Sound protections to address oils that submerge and sink and hires new inspectors to conduct specialized reviews of oil transfers and vessel inspections.

– Lays the groundwork to identify and accelerate additional safety measures to prevent oil spills such as developing an action plan to address the threat of barge traffic and conduct a transboundary summit on Salish Sea risks and protections.

Passage of SB 6269 marks another critical step forward to increase Washington state oil transportation safety. However, as Washington continues to see changes in oil transportation, the state Oil Spills program still needs long-term stabilized funding and updated spill prevention tools. The issue is expected to return to lawmakers and budget writers in future legislative sessions.

Atlantic Net Pen Bill: On March 2, state Senators cast the final vote on a heavily debated bill to phase out Atlantic salmon net pens in Washington. We are incredibly proud of the 31 senators and 67 house representatives who chose to represent the interests of our marine environment over the interests of a well-funded and powerful industry. Despite a desperate, all-out, last-minute lobbying push by Cooke Aquaculture, 98 representatives in the Senate and the house stood up for our sound and our salmon. Friends staff applaud them. But this issues is not dead.

Despite the vote, the industry is attempting to stop net pen bill with a request to the governor to veto the bill. We are encouraging everyone to call the governor at 360-902-4111 and urge him to sign HB2957 into law.