Something smells here and it isn't rotten fish. The Columbian reported on Oct 5 about the massive sewage spill from the Vancouver, WA sewage treatment plant. About 510,000 gallons of sewage, including 400,000 of raw sewage (feces and the like), went into the Columbia River.
This follows on the massive spill in Seattle when over 150 million gallons (yes, million!) went into Puget Sound.
We understand that accidents happen and no one intended to create these environmental disasters. What we farmers have a hard time with is how easily these things are dismissed as minor, while a teaspoon of cow manure into a ditch or a stream is seen by many as an environmental catastrophe.
Here's what Vancouver's engineering manager said, downplaying the impact: The good news, Swensen said, is all trace of sewage should be long gone. “The volume of the river is such that by now any of the (sewage) has been diluted to a point it’s not a problem and washed down stream,” he said. “There’s nothing really for us to do.”
When the big Seattle spill happened, the environmental groups like Puget Soundkeeper were silent. The Seattle Times finally got a wimpish statement out of them after publishing an editorial about their double standard.
When a dairy farmer accidentally spills even a small amount of manure into a stream, it is a violation of the state's very strict dairy management laws which call for ZERO discharge. The farmer can be cited and fined. One farmer has a very small spill that was long cleaned up when an EPA official from the Criminal Investigation Unit showed up, packing a gun and handed the farmer a business card that said: "Glock Certified Armorer." We wonder what would have happened if the farmer had said something like the Vancouver engineering manager: "Oh don't worry, sir, it's been diluted and washed downstream, there's really nothing for us to do."
What is most annoying is Puget Soundkeeper who purports to work to protect Puget Sound but makes hardly a squeak about these kinds of spills, while at the same time claiming on their website that cows produce manure in quantities "far beyond the capability of farmers to manage" it. That, in farm language is called complete BS. We suggest the leaders read up on the Dairy Nutrient Management Act, and start paying attention to these too frequent "minor" sewage disasters.
On September 22 Seattle Times columnist Brier Dudley wrote about the Transportation Choices Coalition and its lobbying activities. He recommends several things the state should do to increase transparency including broadening the definition of lobbying.
Policy lobbying. The definition of traditional lobbying needs to be broadened in Washington. It currently applies primarily to directly influencing specific legislation, such as a bill in the Legislature. But lobbyists also influence policy before it becomes legislation and after, when it is implemented.
Exactly. The What's Upstream campaign was an overt lobbying campaign, designed from the beginning to pass legislation, regulations or a citizen's initiative. Even the organizing activity including signature gathering for a planned citizen's initiative was included in the plan and later dropped. All this lobbying was done with taxpayer money using an environmental grant from the EPA to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The tribal employee who ran the campaign defended himself from prosecution of state campaign law violations by saying he was immune from state laws. The Office of Inspector General determined that the campaign was a Washington State lobbying campaign, but since it didn't involve specific federal legislation it didn't break federal campaign rules. But our Public Disclosure Commission and Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office refused to enforce the law on the flimsiest of grounds, but including the statement the nearly $500,000 (taxpayer funded) campaign didn't reference a specific bill so wasn't really lobbying. This despite the fact that the same tribal official had gotten a bill introduced to do what the campaign was aimed at.
We agree with Brier Dudley, something must be done. We do think that the law is pretty clear that this violated state campaign laws but for political reasons (look at the AG's campaign contributions) the AG decided not to enforce, even while running his political campaign on vigorous campaign law enforcement actions. If it is not clear enough to prevent this kind of abuse, it needs to be changed. While we are at it, we need to address this issue of tribal compliance with our campaign laws. As it stands, according to the EPA, once they give a tribe taxpayer money they have no control over it and according to the PDC and the Attorney General, tribes can use that taxpayer money for political purposes without accountability, transparency or legal consequences.
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