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Islander’s 'green' bills find support in Senate

Phil Rockefeller musters backing for measures on bio-fuels, oil spill prevention.

Sen. Phil Rockefeller garnered unanimous support in the state Senate for three “green” bills he hopes will bloom into new laws for cleaner air and water.

“Considering where we are, in the Puget Sound, we need to be concerned about these things,” the Bainbridge Island Democrat said.

Rockefeller is the prime sponsor of three Senate-approved bills aimed at preventing oil spills, increasing the use of cleaner-burning fuels and tougher penalties for those who abandon boats in Puget Sound waters.

The bio-fuel measure, Senate Bill 6501, drew on full bipartisan support in the state Senate last week and is now winding its way through the state House of Representatives.

The bill establishes a state Department of Agriculture loan program that supports a proposed requirement that at least 2 percent of the state’s diesel consumption come from renewable, plant-based fuels.

The measure would help finance the construction of facilities used to convert farm products into gaseous or liquid fuels. These bio-fuels burn cleaner than oil and coal, releasing fewer toxins into the air.

“We’ll be relying on the genius of our farmers, who can grow hundreds of acres of oil-seed crops,” Rockefeller said. “It’s an in-state energy industry, and it’s really where the future is. I want to make sure it happens in our state.”

Rockefeller drew upon strong support from state biodiesel groups, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Washington Environmental Council for the measure.

The full Senate also backed Rockefeller’s proposal to enact tougher standards for oil transport in the sound earlier this month.

In Senate Bill 6244, which was slated for a public hearing in the House yesterday, directs the state Department of Ecology to scale its rules to the environmental and health risks posed by the transfer of oil from ships to land-based facilities, the volume of oil and the frequency with which oil-carrying vessels travel the sound.

The measure would also expand DOE’s authority over motor vehicles engaged in oil transfer and transportation.

“Clearly the risk is greatest when oil is being transferred or ships are refueling,” Rockefeller said. “We know that oil and water don’t mix.”

Rockefeller also wants to clean waterways of abandoned vessels, which often leak fuel and release other toxins before eventually sinking. His measure to tackle this issue, Senate Bill 6223, also netted unanimous Senate support last week and now awaits approval in the House.

“Our public waterways are for all of us to enjoy,” Rockefeller said. “They’re not a private junkyard for irresponsible boat owners.”

Senate Bill 6223 would make it a misdemeanor to leave a vessel abandoned. The measure would also reimburse local authorities up to 90 percent for costs related to the disposal of derelict vessels. Current rules reimburse 75 percent of the total costs of vessel disposal if the previous owner is unknown.

“The current system is working well and our waterways are being cleared of these derelict vessels,” Rockefeller said. “But removal can be expensive and the jurisdictions need financial assistance to do the job right.”

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