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Washington Legislators Consider Increased Barrel Tax To Bolster Oil Safety And Accountability

State legislators concerned about oil transportation safety in Washington have introduced new proposals to strengthen spill prevention and response. They’re concerned about the increasing use of pipelines and tankers and the potential impacts that could have on Puget Sound.

Canada’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline is expected to increase oil tanker traffic through Puget Sound by as much as sevenfold. But there’s concern that regulations to keep it safe are lacking.

Rebecca Ponzio is campaign director with the Stand Up To Oil Coalition, one of several groups that are backing new legislation introduced this week in Olympia, including a bill called the Oil Transportation Safety and Accountability Act.

“We continue to be at risk of a devastating oil spill. More and more barges are being used. [The] Kinder Morgan project increases the amount of tanker traffic dramatically,” Ponzio said. “So this bill requires [the state Department of ] Ecology to establish a rulemaking process to put in place the right protections for Puget Sound, given all these evolving threats.”

She says those threats include the possibility that refineries here could start using their docks to as export terminals for unprocessed crude oil. So the bill would require public review if that happens.

It would also increase oversight when pipelines here are built or expanded, by lowering the threshold on when those are subject to public review by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

“And that’s really important, because currently, the trigger is 15 miles, yet Cherry Point to the border is around five miles,” she said, referring to the area near several oil refineries.

Another bill aims to ensure there’s adequate funding for oil spill cleanup, by increasing the barrel tax on oil entering the state (by 2.5 cents, to 6.5 cents per barrel) and extending it to oil coming in by pipeline, which is currently exempt, although it is increasing.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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