Working toward a healthier Sound | In Our Opinion

Much of what we do has an impact on the sea. Cars and trucks drip oil, which is carried to the sea by stormwater. Trash not disposed of properly is carried by wind to the sea. Fertilizers and herbicides and pesticides ultimately find their way to the sea. Agricultural waste and contamination from faulty septic systems make their way to the sea. According to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, we’re losing salmon habitat faster than we can restore it. Little wonder.

Two laws — one proposed, one approved — would make our society more proactive on two major threats to the marine environment. We endorse them and encourage their approval and enforcement.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has introduced the Oil Spill Research and Technology Act of 2012 (S. 3298), which would create grants for research and development of new technologies to better contain and clean up oil spills. In addition, the bill requires the U.S. Coast Guard to establish a program to evaluate and implement “best available technology” to effectively respond to and clean up oil spills.

Among new oil spill response technologies: oil solidifiers, blowout preventers, new techniques to break down spilled oil, fiber membranes to strain oil from water, and software to ensure equipment works properly during clean up.

According to Cantwell’s office, Canadian companies are poised to increase traffic of supertankers carrying tar sands oil through the waters around the San Juan Islands and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Tar sands oil is difficult to remove after a spill because it’s more corrosive than other types of oil and contains heavy metals. Tar sands oil also sinks, which renders ineffective conventional techniques to contain and remove oil from the water’s surface.

With new technology in place, cleaning up oil from incidents like the sinking of a fishing boat in Penn Cove could occur more quickly and effectively (the state Department of Natural Resources is currently tracking about 200 abandoned or derelict vessels in Puget Sound).

Cantwell’s bill would authorize the Coast Guard to thoroughly review and evaluate new oil spill response technology. The bill would also give the Coast Guard authority to review regional oil spill response plans every five years to ensure the best available technology is in place.

Second, the state Department of Ecology is accepting public comment on proposed rules to carry out the state’s Better Brakes law. The law restricts use of heavy metals and asbestos and phases out the use of copper in vehicle brake pads and shoes. Brake dust from asbestos, copper and heavy metals used in pads and shoes ends up in the Sound.

Public hearings are scheduled for July 10, 6 p.m., at Ecology’s Northwest Regional Office, 3190 160th Ave. SE, Bellevue; and July 12, 6 p.m., at Ecology’s Headquarters Building, 300 Desmond Drive SE, Lacey.

The Better Brakes law was passed in 2010 to reduce toxic material in automotive vehicle brake pads and shoes. The legislation passed with the support of brake and auto manufacturers, businesses and environmental groups.

Comments will be accepted through July 19 and may be made at the public hearings; by email to ian.wesley@ecy.wa.gov (include Better Brakes Rule in the subject line); or mailed to Ian Wesley, Department of Ecology, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504-7600.

The rule language and supporting documents are available at www.ecy.wa.gov/laws-rules/better_brakes/1017.html.


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