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Originally published Monday, January 31, 2011 at 6:18 PM

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Wash. enviros pushing fee on stormwater pollution

Environmentalists are backing a legislative proposal that would charge a fee on stormwater pollutants - including petroleum, fertilizers and herbicides - to raise money for local cleanup projects.

Associated Press

SEATTLE —

Environmentalists are backing a legislative proposal that would charge a fee on stormwater pollutants - including petroleum, fertilizers and herbicides - to raise money for local cleanup projects.

Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Vashon Island, and Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, are sponsoring the so-called 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act. It would raise $100 million a year by charging a fee equal to 1 percent of a product's wholesale value. The fee would be collected at the point of first possession, supporters said, so manufacturers and importers would pay, not consumers.

"This is a bill that will create jobs in the state at a time when we need them," said Nelson, who is the prime sponsor of SB5604. The companion bill is HB1735. She said it also will ensure cities and counties can meet federal clean water requirements.

Environmentalists failed in the previous two legislative sessions to pass a pollution tax that would have raise millions, mostly from the state's oil refineries, to pay for projects that would curb stormwater pollution. They faced intense opposition from business groups then and will face similar resistance this year.

Business groups said Monday they will oppose the measure.

"Given the extremely challenging economy, the AWB (Association of Washington Business) is very concerned about additional fees that may impact the employer community being able to create new jobs and maintain existing jobs," said Grant Nelson, the group's government affairs director.

This year's stormwater proposal levies a new fee on stormwater pollutants. Previous proposals had targeted the state's existing hazardous substances tax, which is levied on oil products, pesticides and other chemicals and is earmarked for environmental cleanup projects.

Environmentalists shifted gears to a fee after voters approved Initiative 1053 in November, making it more difficult to raise taxes. I-1053 requires a statewide vote or a two-thirds majority legislative approval to hike taxes.

Brendon Cechovic, executive director of Washington Conservation Voters, says there's a direct nexus between the proposed stormwater fee and what the money will be spent on - local projects to clean up toxic runoff.

"It's a fee on hazardous substances that's actually polluting our waterways," he said.

The measure applies to petroleum products, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Additional pollutants could be added or deleted, but the fee would not apply to gasoline carried in the fuel tanks of airplanes, ships, trucks or other vehicles, or to products for personal residential use.

David Fisher, a spokesman with the Western States Petroleum Association, said the fee looks like a tax to him. He said it is assessed only on certain products and is not spent to cover the cost of regulating any sort of activity.

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Fisher worried the measure would increase costs for businesses, which would be forced to pass the costs on to consumers or absorb those costs, hurting their bottom line.

Stormwater runoff is a leading source of water pollution in Washington state. When rain falls on roofs, parking lots and driveways, it washes oil, grease, dirt, heavy metals and other pollutants into rivers, lakes and bays.

According to the state Department of Ecology, the primary pollutants in stormwater are nutrients, bacteria, sediment and toxic chemicals. This spring, the department expects to finalize a study of toxic chemicals in stormwater runoff into the Puget Sound.

Preliminary results show the major sources of Puget Sound contaminants include petroleum, zinc, copper, nutrients, bacteria, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from woodstoves and vehicle emissions, according to Ecology.

"It's only fair to ask polluters to pay their share of the cleanup costs," said Joan Crooks, executive director of the Washington Environmental Council.

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The bills are HB1735 and SB5604.

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Online:

Washington Legislature: http:// www.leg.wa.gov

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Online:

http://www.leg.wa.gov

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