Governor signs oil spill prevention, orca recovery legislation

OLYMPIA – With only 75 Southern Resident orcas left in the Puget Sound area, Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation on Wednesday, May 8 to help with orca recovery by preventing oil spills in the Salish Sea.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, House Bill 1578 reinforces the Oil Spill Prevention Act and Strengthening Oil Transportation Act by requiring small oil tankers and barges travel with tug escorts through the narrow straights of the San Juan Islands as recommended by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

“We all need to work together to help our struggling orcas,” 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 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.”

Over the course of the legislative session, lawmakers pushed bold policy efforts to help recovery of Southern Resident orcas. This has included legislation protecting against catastrophic oil spills, reducing boat noise, preventing toxins from entering Washington waters and increasing Chinook salmon – the primary food source for orcas.

Oil spill prevention is more cost-effective than clean up and restoration. The Dept. of Ecology estimates that a major spill could cost taxpayers around $10.8 billion and impact 165,000 jobs.

Washington is 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.