Sound Status Update — August 2017
By Melissa Malott, Executive Director
The past few months have been especially busy for everyone involved in the environmental movement, and August is no exception. Before getting into the important issues we face, I want to thank you for your support of Citizens for a Healthy Bay and for the great feedback you provided regarding our new monthly series, Sound Status Update. We received so many positive messages and I want to express our gratitude and appreciation for your kind words.
The current EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, is proposing to rescind the Clean Water Rule, and has given the public 60 days (until September 27) to weigh-in on a proposal that affects the drinking water of 1 in 3 Americans.
The Clean Water Rule was introduced in 2015 to clarify which bodies of water fall under the protection of the landmark Clean Water Act. The new rule allowed streams, rivers, and wetlands—particularly ones that are seasonal—to be included under the Clean Water Act, expanding vital protection to wetlands and small streams that provide our communities with flood and storm protection, water pollution filtration, recreation, and habitat for culturally and economically significant wildlife like salmon.
Our waters are interconnected, and if we want to have clean water in our larger streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, we need to protect the smaller bodies of water that flow into these larger systems.
This rule is about stopping pollution before it happens. People and their communities suffer when polluters get free passes to destroy our water bodies and drinking water sources, which is exactly what repealing the Clean Water Rule will do. We need to be doing more to rein in polluters and stop pollution at the source, not less.
Cleaning up the Occidental Chemical contamination site
Meet the toxic ‘leviathan’ that is the Occidental Chemical cleanup site, or OxyChem for short. Located along the Hylebos Waterway with a pollution plume that’s as deep as the height of the Seahawks stadium and more than four times the area, the site is the last big cleanup effort in Tacoma. Mixed in with the groundwater is a polluted concoction: volatile chemicals with alkaline levels so high they’re stronger than drain cleaner and dissolve rocks into jelly—and PCB’s—a chemical the EPA banned in 1979. The pollution has already seeped into groundwater, and there is a serious concern it will reach a waterway, posing a grave threat to salmon, shellfish, and even the orcas that live in the south Sound.
The Washington Department of Ecology is currently reviewing different options for a cleanup plan. Meanwhile, the company responsible, Occidental Chemical Corporation, is pushing for a plan that would treat less than half the pollution. Learn more and stay up to date about OxyChem and the latest developments.
Coski Mine update
The City of Tacoma has just approved a permit for the Coski Sand and Gravel Mine on Marine View Drive. Terra5 Company, LLC is seeking to reopen mining operations at the long inactive mine in Northeast Tacoma, with the project aiming to mine 400,000 cubic yards of sand and gravel over the next decade from a site situated just 450 feet from the nearest residential area. Unfortunately, the environmental review of the project was insufficient and unsatisfactory. A mining project of this magnitude, operating in such close proximity to residents and unstable slopes, should require a full environmental review or Environmental Impact Statement. We are reviewing potential options regarding the City’s approval of the permit and will have more news soon.
Fossil Fuels in the Tacoma Tideflats
The Tacoma Planning Commission announced it will hold a public hearing on September 13th for interim regulations that will place a temporary freeze on any new fossil fuel projects in the Tacoma Tideflats. The hearing aims to gather community feedback before the commission passes on its recommendations to the City Council. The Planning Commission also released its draft Tideflats Interim Regulations on August 16, and will allow for public comment until September 15th.
Now is the time to take advantage of the public process and make your voice heard. We have a golden opportunity to write a new chapter for Tacoma’s future; we can show that a cleaner future is possible. Find out more about the proposed temporary ban on new fossil fuel projects here.
BIG NEWS: There’s also good news
While we might feel fatigued and bogged down by the seemingly endless flow of bad news and crises, the truth is there are tons of positive actions and events to be celebrated. Just a few weeks ago, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to approve $28 million for Puget Sound in the fiscal year of 2018. While it’s not an increase from previous years, it matches the 2017 levels, and at a time we were worried about it being zeroed out, that’s good news. This funding would provide federal grants for local, state, and tribal programs in the Puget Sound to improve water quality, assist with cleanup efforts, increase salmon habitat, and protect the waters critical to our environmental and economic health.
The bill will still face a House vote, while the Senate will have its own spending plan, but we should still be encouraged that the House committee ignored the proposed White House budget that would have cut EPA’s Puget Sound funding entirely, in addition to Rep. Derek Kilmer and Rep. Denny Heck, along with the rest of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, fending off a proposed $3 million cut that appeared in the original bill. Puget Sound is an iconic body of water and one that we all hold dear to our hearts. Kudos to everyone out there who’s engaged on this and Reps Kilmer and Heck for fighting for it.
You’re invited to breakfast
Coming up in October is our second annual Breakfast for the Bay, and I’d love for you to join us! The breakfast is a chance to celebrate our community’s success in creating a cleaner and healthier Commencement Bay and south Puget Sound. You’ll also hear from accomplished local leaders about our progress, and we’ll share our vision for the upcoming year. We look forward to your support in creating a bright future for our community and our waters! Learn more and RSVP here.
I hope to see you there!