OLYMPIA – On Thursday the Legislature passed House Bill 1578 to help with orca whale recovery and oil spill prevention in the Salish Sea. There are only 75 Southern Resident orcas left.
Sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, the legislation reinforces the Oil Spill Prevention Act and Strengthening Oil Transportation Act. The bill requires small oil tankers and barges to have tug escorts when traveling through the narrow straights of the San Juan Islands.
The legislation is in direct response to recommendations by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force to reduce exposure to toxic pollutants for both orcas and their prey.
“Tug escorts are one of the most effective ways to prevent oils spills, because they can quickly tow away problematic vessels to a safe harbor,” said Lekanoff. “These smaller marine vessels often carry as much oil as bigger oil tankers. They should be held to the same standard.”
“This is one of many important steps we’re taking to ensure the health and safety of our orcas,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “The effects of oil spills on our orcas are irreversible but preventable. I would like to thank Rep. Lekanoff for leading this important effort to protect Puget Sound and one of its most inspiring treasures.”
Oil spills could have devastating ramifications for coastal economies, the environment and marine life. Averting spills is also more cost-effective than clean-up and restoration. The Department of Ecology estimates that a major spill could cost taxpayers around $10.8 billion and impact 165,000 jobs.
Additionally, as Washington remains a key hub for international shipping on the West Coast, it is estimated that approximately 20 billion gallons of oil pass annually throughout the region.
The legislation now goes on to Gov. Inslee for his signature before becoming law.