Washington

Shortfall widens for Washington taxes on toxics

A shortfall in the state tax on petroleum products and other “hazardous substances” has put in doubt reimbursement for two major cleanups the Port of Tacoma has completed on the former Arkema chemical site, shown here, and the Kaiser Aluminum site.
A shortfall in the state tax on petroleum products and other “hazardous substances” has put in doubt reimbursement for two major cleanups the Port of Tacoma has completed on the former Arkema chemical site, shown here, and the Kaiser Aluminum site. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

Falling oil prices delivered a more than $33 million hit this week to Washington’s efforts to clean up and prevent pollution.

The latest forecast of state revenue Wednesday increased the shortfall in funding available for cleanups by 76 percent, to $78 million. It more than wipes out all the money in the current state budgets assumed to be spent through mid-2017 on new cleanup projects at ports and other polluted sites.

The funding comes from a tax on oil and other hazardous chemicals. Unlike the per-gallon gas tax, it’s based on price. As the value of a barrel of oil has fallen to as low as $30, the 0.7 percent tax on chemicals is raising about three-quarters of what was expected a year ago.

Lawmakers have spread the tax revenue around in recent years to help balance budgets and pay for a slew of environmental programs, worsening the effect of the recent drop on cleanups.

Now lawmakers will decide how much of the gap to bridge and how to do it.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee suggested borrowing money to cover part of the earlier, smaller shortfall.

Senate environmental committee chairman Doug Ericksen wants to move money into cleanups by postponing grants and loans for stormwater filtration, among other Department of Ecology programs.

That work would be easier to resume than cleanups underway, said Ericksen, R-Ferndale: “Once you’re rolling on that, you don’t want to stop and start.”

A bipartisan proposal seeks to raise the tax by 0.2 percent during times of low revenue.

Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson said lawmakers have diverted money from cleanup projects to Department of Ecology operations, “which are critical,” and now need to explore raising the tax.

“The projects for the ports, the cleanups that are involved there, are incredibly important,” said Nelson, D-Maury Island.

State budget proposals start emerging Monday.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826, @Jordan_Schrader

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