A request by Boeing and Senate Republicans for additional research into fish-consumption risks is one of several smaller issues still holding up the Legislature’s quest to finish an operating budget deal Wednesday. The Republican-led Senate announced a deal was in place and both House Speaker Frank Chopp and spokesmen for Gov. Jay Inslee said that announcement was premature because negotiations were ongoing.
In the meantime, talks continued on the fish-standards issue that reared its head fairly late in the budget talks. Boeing wants more study before the Department of Ecology adopts higher fish-consumption standards. Inslee’s budget team and House Democrats says the issue has been a big focus of some recent negotiating.
At bottom, the issue is about the level of toxicity in food fish and what level of toxins that can be tolerated in waterways where food fish are found. (A good backgrounder is here.) That health-risk calculation is a factor in setting pollution standards for waterways, and Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom says that Boeing could potentially lose 10 acres of factory space in Renton if rules are drawn the wrong way.
The Boeing Co. today clarified its interest in the issue with this statement from spokeswoman Sue Bradley that did not get into specifics:
“Ensuring a thorough, deliberative process and the inclusion of sound science in the human health water quality standards rulemaking is among Boeing’s top public policy priorities in Washington state. It is an issue of critical importance not only to Boeing, but to the state’s economy. The rulemaking will impact businesses, workers, municipalities and communities across the state. Boeing is committed to responsible environmental leadership and sustainable growth as the company increases production rates on every one of our commercial airplane lines. We are working to ensure a reasonable solution and achievable water quality standards. We believe a general population fish consumption survey is a necessary step in the process to ensure the best available information is incorporated into the rulemaking.”
UPDATE: Boeing’s Bradley just added to the company’s statement:
“Among other aspects, we are concerned about the impact on our operations. The current proposal could require Boeing to devote a significant parcel of land to satisfy requirements at an already space-constrained site, severely impairing our production plans. We decline to be more specific about that.”
But House Capital Budget chair Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish said language he crafted late Tuesday with help and backing from Republican Reps. Richard DeBolt of Chehalis and Shelly Short of Addy was rejected by the Senate. The House proposal would have allowed more study without slowing the Department of Ecology’s ongoing work to enact rules that assume a higher level of fish consumption than is assumed in current rules and standards.
Indian tribes with members that rely on fish as a subsistence food are particularly worried that the state standard exposes them to higher risks of disease from toxins that accumulate in fish.
Tom, the Democrat who leads the majority caucus with 23 Republicans and one other conservative Democrat, said Boeing’s request is important to heed given its historical prominence in the state’s manufacturing base. But he acknowledged the Senate would end up voting for a budget that did not have a fish consumption study requirement – if it came down to it and the budget document was moving toward a final vote.
“We would vote for it,” Tom told reporters, adding that his own parents had worked for the aerospace giant and losing more of its high-paid workforce would be tragic for Washington. “I think it is a sad day for Washington state because I do think that without that study being properly written we basically are shoving Boeing out of this state.’’
Asked what Boeing specifically had said was its worry, Tom said it “has a huge impact on their plants” and would require the setting aside of land, which in effect would limit the company’s activities at its Renton jet-assembly plant.
“It would require 10 acres of additional acreage that they don’t have there. It’s not like (its facility in) Everett … In Renton there is no more space. If you take 10 acres off line, what do you do? Do you shut down a couple of manufacturing buildings, bulldoze them, and build wetlands? It’s a huge, huge concern,’’ Tom said.
Asked about Tom’s claims of acreage, Dunshee said later: “If this is about 10 acres, we’ll buy them 10 acres.’’