Tacoma and Pierce County are working hard to address a legacy of pollution and make a better future for our residents and our economy. To accomplish our goals, we rely on state funding to clean up toxic sites and prevent pollution.
Right now, the state Legislature is making decisions that will affect Tacoma and Pierce County’s future. Our state’s voter-approved law to clean up and prevent toxic pollution (the Model Toxic Control Act) is facing an unprecedented funding crisis.
The rapid and dramatic drop in oil prices has benefits for residents, but one downside is that revenue used to clean up and prevent pollution has declined by $100 million since last summer, leaving a large shortfall that jeopardizes projects that help our communities.
To maintain investments in cleaning up toxic sites and preventing harmful pollution, the state must provide funding to help our communities move forward.
For more than 25 years, the Model Toxic Control Act has advanced three primary objectives: cleaning up toxic sites, preventing and controlling pollution, and providing grants to organizations like Citizens for a Healthy Bay to address toxic pollution challenges. This three-pronged approach has been highly successful. It has cleaned up an average of 244 sites each year, funded projects to prevent toxic polluted runoff, and provided support grants to community groups, businesses and nonprofits.
Toxic cleanups are essential to many aspects of a community’s health; we have seen that in Tacoma many times. Today, we are waiting for funding to keep cleanups at the Arkema chemical plant on track. These cleanups are essential to redeveloping these areas as healthy, thriving neighborhoods.
Some have argued that the state should only focus on cleanups. Although cleaning up toxic sites is critically important, if we neglect or delay investments in prevention, we risk undermining cleanup efforts. In every case, preventing pollution is cheaper and better for our well-being than cleaning up a dirty and dangerous toxic pollution site.
Pierce County is an innovation hub for preventing pollution. Washington State University-Puyallup’s Washington Stormwater Center is a nationally respected research institution specializing in solutions for dealing with polluted runoff, our state’s largest source of water pollution. Cities like Puyallup and Tacoma are using proven green infrastructure techniques, putting people to work, reducing harmful pollution in our rivers, and improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Tacoma is currently constructing a green stormwater project at Point Defiance to filter and treat dirty runoff before it is discharged into Puget Sound. This will help ensure the Smelter Plume cleanup is successful and long-lasting.
The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has used toxics funding to identify and solve almost 2,000 problems related to hazardous waste and/or polluted runoff. The rate of success for stopping the release of harmful pollution was a remarkable 99 percent.
By identifying and solving these problems before they become a major issue, we save money long-term and protect people’s health. If we only put dollars into clean-up efforts and not prevention, we shortchange ourselves.
Some state leaders have advocated for delaying important investments in prevention, without a plan for when those funds will return. In addition, some support cutting critical programs like reducing diesel emissions, replacing woodstoves and public oversight at the Department of Ecology. Cutting these programs will not guarantee clean-up projects move forward in a timely way, but they are likely to increase the risk of health emergencies like asthma attacks. That’s a disservice to Pierce County and other communities across the state.
We urge the Legislature to provide funding to keep toxic protection work moving forward. We appreciate there are many demands on state budget writers. However, providing the needed funding to reduce pollution and keep existing projects on track will help our economy grow and protect our health.
We ask budget writers not to overlook the importance and cost-effectiveness of reducing toxic pollution threats that affect people, health and the environment. We encourage you to contact your legislator by phone or email.
Ryan Mello is the deputy mayor of Tacoma. Derek Young is a member of the Pierce County Council, representing District 7.