How the state's largest cities will manage polluted runoff.
i want moar, flickr
In a little less than three months, Washington State’s largest cities and counties must start following new rules on how to manage dirty runoff that washes toxic metals, oil and grease, fertilizers, and other pollution into our streams, lakes, and ocean. Polluted stormwater is one of the largest threats to Puget Sound, so it’s worth taking some time to demystify just what will be required.
The updated rules of the road are contained in the state’s new Municipal Stormwater Permits, which are administered by the Washington Department of Ecology. The permits cover everything from reducing construction pollution to educating citizens on good stormwater practices as they wash cars to adopting green low-impact development techniques like roadside rain gardens, permeable pavement, and green roofs.
In this blogpost, we’ll focus on updates to the Phase I permits, which go into effect on August 1, 2013 and will remain in force for five years. The permits cover discharges from large and medium municipal separate storm sewer systems, commonly known as “MS4s,” found in the most populated areas of the state. (We’ll get into the details of the Phase II permits for smaller municipalities in a subsequent post). Read more »
How the accidental tax loophole could pay for education.
In Washington, oil refineries have long benefited from an accidental tax loophole so bizarre that the state’s bi-partisan tax review committee can identify no public policy purpose for it.
With the Supreme Court demanding more money for basic education, both Governor Inslee and the House have moved to close the loophole. Both aim to redirect the $40.8 million from oil companies to classrooms, but some in the Senate are defending the refiners.
So as a way to make clear what closing the loophole would do for public education, here’s a simple graphic explanation:
All figures used in this post come directly from Governor Inslee’s proposed budget, particularly the tax exemption fact sheet and the education funding supplement.
Graphic design by Devin Porter at GoodMeasures.biz.
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Company abandons coal terminal planned for Oregon.
Photo courtesy of Paul K Anderson. Used with permission.
Huge news on the coal export front just now. As Scott Learn at The Oregonian reports, “Kinder Morgan drops plan to build coal export terminal at Port of St. Helens industrial park.”
Kinder Morgan had been planning to export as much as 30 million tons of coal each year on the Columbia River from a site near Clatskanie, Oregon, but their plans ran into a buzz saw of opposition from local communities, environmental and health advocates, and even nearby industrial users. This morning they announced that they are officially abandoning their plans to build a coal terminal at Port Westward.
Sightline’s research was instrumental in the debate. We published extensive documentation of Kinder Morgan’s problems with coal dust at their terminals, as well as the company’s lengthy rap sheet of fraud, illegal dumping, and lax safety. A month after we published our research, the utility PGE announced that it would not sublease its land at Port Westward to Kinder Morgan out of concern that the spread of coal dust would damage its gas turbines. Since then, the firm has struggled to configure its plans, but local opposition continued to mount while prices in Asia weakened.
Today’s news amounts to a huge victory for the Power Past Coal campaign. Of the six coal export terminals originally planned for the Northwest, three have now been withdrawn, in large part owing to an enormous backlash to the plans.
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A fall in teen births yields a dip in overall fertility rates.
According to the latest figures, birth rates in Cascadia (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho) have fallen to what could very well be an all-time low. And when I say “all time” I mean it: it’s quite possibly the lowest birth rate since humans first came to the Northwest.
(Click on the chart for a larger version.)
Of course, there’s no way to know with any certainty what the birth rate was before records were kept—but in times of high infant mortality, birth rates were generally far above what we see today. So it’s quite likely that the human inhabitants of what we now call the Northwest have never had such small families.
Oddly enough, though, birth rates in each Northwest jurisdiction have been lower at some point in the recent past. From the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, Washington’s birth rates were lower than they are today. Oregon’s birth rates dipped below today’s in the mid-1970s; Idaho’s rates were lower in the late 1980s; and BC’s were lower in the early 2000s. It’s only when you combine all four regions that you see that today’s birth rates have fallen to an all-time low.
I’m sure that this news could send some people into a panic about a “birth dearth.” But remember that a large share of the fall in fertility can be traced to a rapid decline in teen birth rates—which are now almost certainly at their lowest level of all time. (See the chart to the right.) If teen births hadn’t fallen, overall birth rates today would remain higher than they were in the mid-1980s. So to a large extent, lower fertility rates are a cause for celebration: they suggest progress in giving teens both the reason and the ability to delay childbearing.
And now for the caveat: treat these figures with caution. After the 2010 census, Washington revised a decade’s worth of birth rates downward. So there’s always a chance that new population estimates could jiggle these numbers around a bit. That said, those sorts of changes tend to be very small—meaning that even if we aren’t at an all-time low in fertility, we’re pretty darn close.
Anna Fahey talks about the power of facing emotions about climate change.
Anna Fahey at Whidbey Climate Conference. Photo: Jim Carroll.
Editor’s note: Wilderness guide, author, and activist Kurt Hoelting was one of the organizers of a recent Whidbey Institute conference for regional champions of climate solutions entitled “Calling the Choir To Sing.” He’s been writing about the conference on his blog, Inside Passages: Conversations Around the Fire, including this post with his commentary and a transcript of the talk by Sightline’s Anna Fahey. Many thanks to Kurt for letting us republish it here.
Anna Fahey, Sightline’s communications strategist, gave a powerful talk on “Tapping Into Dark Optimism.” Dark optimism, she says, is a term coined by Shaun Chamberlin to describe “our capacity to face dark truths, while believing unwaveringly in our human potential.” Anna consolidates many of the core ideas that I’ve tried to highlight in my writing, in a wonderfully condensed and heartfelt way, from the perspective of a dedicated policy professional. How, for example, do we get people exactly like ‘me’ to care about climate change, if I’m not really facing the hard truth myself? How do we harness the necessary intensity within our movement that has proven so elusive? And how do we confront the difficult emotions that our climate crisis evokes in all of us, with courage and resilience rather than fear and avoidance?
Why do Anna’s words matter? Because we are in this for the long haul, and it will take all the emotional intelligence and personal courage we can muster to stay with the truth of this crisis as it continues to unfold.
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Fewer crashes, not more, after marijuana legalization.
One of the often-overlooked benefits of declining driving, particularly among the young, has been a rapid reduction in car crash deaths over the past decade. And those safety improvements have probably been helped by falling sales of super-sized pickups and SUVs, along with other promising automotive technology trends.
But during last year’s debate over marijuana legalization in Washington, I heard quite a bit of concern that permissive marijuana laws would reverse the recent declines in crash fatalities. I recall chatting with a well-meaning tow truck driver—a guy who’d seen the aftermath of a lot of terrible crashes—and he was convinced that legalizing pot would just mean more dead kids. Being a parent myself, I found it easy to understand that perspective. Despite a long-term decline in alcohol-related crashes in the state, drunk driving is still a very serious problem—and I can certainly relate to the fear that legalizing another intoxicating substance would boost car crash deaths.
So far, though, the opposite has been true: crash fatalities in the first part of the year seem to have fallen to a new low. See the chart to the right for details—we only have data through April 23, but extrapolating the early year data through the end of the month, we’ve still seen far fewer crashes during the first part of the year than we’ve seen in a while. The long-term trend towards fewer crashes seems to be continuing.
Of course, the numbers are still preliminary, so we shouldn’t read too much into them. And with such a small sample size it’s a bit early to draw firm conclusions. Still, it’s hard to find evidence in the early accident reports that there’s been any uptick in crash fatalities. In fact, based on the long-term vehicle death trends for the state, it looks likely that this has been the safest start to a year since at least 1980; and if the long-term state fatality trends mirror the nation’s, it may be one of the safest starts to the year since the 1950s.
We may have to wait a while to be absolutely sure of the numbers. But if the early trends continue, other states and jurisdictions would be wise to take notice. Marijuana laws are expensive to enforce, and help perpetuate substantial racial and economic disparities. (I’d recommend this documentary for a stark view of the effects of the nation’s drug wars.) So if there’s no compelling public safety reason to continue enforcing marijuana laws, perhaps we’d all be safer, fairer, and richer without them.
No rich child left behind, the most wildly irresponsible vintage toys, and more.
If this was a pill, you’d do anything to get it. But sequester cuts are shutting down this simple, live-saving, life-extending health program in Pennsylvania. (h/t JDF).
You’ve probably heard the news that NBA veteran Jason Collins is gay. But if you haven’t yet, you should read his coming-out piece in Sports Illustrated. It’s really powerful.
And don’t miss Sherman Alexie’s response in The Stranger: “And there’s the rub: When we’re talking about professional athletes, we are mostly talking about males passionately admiring the physical attributes and abilities of other males. It might not be homosexual, but it certainly is homoerotic.”
When it comes to luck or pluck, luck wins out. In fact, when education in the US is concerned, it’s really ‘no rich child left behind.’ In fact, family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.
Maybe you’ve been following biologist and author (and my personal hero) Sandra Steingraber’s trip to jail for protesting what she calls “chemical trespass” of her community and her body by a fracking natural gas company, Inergy. If not, read Bill Moyers’ interview with her. And here’s more on how you became a guinea pig for big chemical corporations.
Oh, and this is just captivating: Photographs of four sisters as they age together over 30 years.
University of Washington professor Dan Jaffe is crowdsourcing the funding for a new research project: Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air? Jaffe has published groundbreaking studies on the ways that pollution from Asia can travel across the Pacific Ocean to contaminate the Northwest. (I’ve written about his work here.) And as one of the nation’s leading experts on air pollution, he is likely to provide valuable insight into the risk of coal trains. Read more »
Survey says: Americans increasingly see weird weather as linked to climate change.
Flood, KConnors, Morguefile.com
Another installment of the Yale/George Mason research project on American climate attitudes (pdf) is out. The latest report is focused on how Americans are connecting changes in weather to global warming. It’s based on a survey fielded in early April.
The takeaways of note: Even though our memories appear to be short—the recency of events affects how we answer questions about weather—there’s an upward trend when it comes to associating weird weather of many different types, from many different seasons, with climate change. Increasingly, even if respondents hadn’t experienced harmful weather first hand, somebody close to them did. They are likely to have talked about it with friends and family, and many have thought about how to be prepared for weather disasters in their own local communities.
- About six in ten Americans (58 percent) say “global warming is affecting weather in the United States.” In the West, 54 percent say this.
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Let Augustus Gloop show you the way to GiveBIG.
Augustus Gloop, happy.
Who doesn’t want to make us look as dumbstruck-happy as Augustus Gloop with a new bar of Wonka chocolate? Or Veruca Salt eying a golden egg? Or Violet Beauregarde with a fresh stick of gum?
We will be all of those characters and more if you help us win a golden ticket!
That’s right: it’s time for The Seattle Foundation’s 2013 GiveBIG campaign. This single day is like no other for Seattle area nonprofits and donors. Why?
For one, it’s a challenge. GiveBIG lasts just one day—May 15, from 12:01 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. After that, it’s kaput. Last year, this day of giving raised over $7.4 million dollars for hundreds of area nonprofits; Sightline raised a total of $43,691 (!!!) from our rock-star supporters and The Seattle Foundation’s stretch pool. That’s a lot of people contributing to a sustainable future. Read more »
Exports fall nationally, rise in the West.
I’m a bit late getting to this, but here’s quarterly data from the latest coal report from the US Energy Information Administration, taking us up through the end of 2012:
Nationally, the big story was that coal exports fell for the second consecutive quarter. By the end of 2012, quarterly shipments were down by 25 percent from the historic highs registered during the second quarter. Still, at 28 million tons, coal exports remained very high by historical standards.
A bit player in the national coal export story, the Western Customs District exported a little more than 2.1 million tons in the fourth quarter, a 16 percent increase from the third quarter.
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