Follow us:

Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Author archives

You are currently viewing all posts written by Erik Smith.

July 28, 2014 at 6:09 AM

B.C. premier vows sewage treatment for Victoria — someday

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark.

It took more than a month, but the premier of British Columbia in Canada has finally answered a letter from Washington’s congressional delegation about the million gallons of raw sewage the city of Victoria flushes every hour into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And somehow that seems fitting, since it has been more than 20 years since Washington started beating the drum about Victoria’s plumbing problems. No one north of the border seems to be in any particular hurry.

The Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation wrote B.C. Premier Christy Clark June 13 to urge that the province find a sewage solution “as soon as possible.” Clark’s rather tardy response promises to hold the southern end of Vancouver Island to a requirement that it develop a new sewage treatment plant. But she fails to address the key question. When, exactly? Will she even be in office? Which century?

More

Comments | Topics: bc, congressional, poo

July 22, 2014 at 6:02 AM

State’s editorial boards: Some praise, some snort at Inslee’s fish-consumption proposal

Salmon steaks in a market. (Source: Wikipedia creative commons.)

Salmon steaks in a market. (Source: Wikipedia creative commons.)

Washington’s editorial writers seemed pretty much of one mind before Gov. Jay Inslee announced his “fish consumption” proposal two weeks ago. Now that the state’s chief executive has spoken they’re all over the map.

The issue has provoked one of the biggest policy debates in recent years, as federal regulators, Native American tribes and environmental groups pressured the state to adopt a higher estimate of individual fish consumption. Worried business interests and local governments have been in a state of high alarm because the estimate drives the state’s water quality standards. Every editorial page that opined on the subject prior to the announcement urged the governor to show moderation, with the exception of The Herald of Everett. But now that Inslee has come up with a plan, there seems to be a bit of disagreement.

An editorial in The Olympian calls it a “reasonable middle ground,” while the Tri-City Herald snorts, “flat-out ridiculous.”

More

Comments

July 14, 2014 at 8:36 AM

Filets aren’t the issue in Inslee’s remarkable fish-consumption decision

Gov. Jay Inslee.

Gov. Jay Inslee.

How much fish do you eat? Twelve pounds a month? If you’re like most people, the answer isn’t anywhere close – one of the reasons Gov. Jay Inslee’s judgment call on a momentous water-quality issue last week struck so many people as absurd.

The governor decreed Wednesday that the state shall use a figure of 12 pounds a month as it calculates new water-quality standards – a big increase from the current half-pound a month. He will soon propose a rule to this effect. Of course the average Washington resident doesn’t eat 12 pounds a month. State officials have never bothered to determine an exact number, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tells us the national average is 14.4 pounds a year.

And the governor says people eat how much?

Believe it or not, Inslee’s decision is the most sensible pronouncement that has emerged to date from any government official during Washington’s long-running battle over fish consumption and water-quality standards. Count it among the top-ten most important state-government decisions of the last decade. Billions of dollars are riding on it, the possibility of costly pollution-control mandates that might sap the vitality of Washington industry, and sewage bills that might cost every homeowner $200 a month or more. Inslee found a clever way out, and while there are a thousand details that still might bollix things up, Washington ought to be grateful that the greenest governor turned out not to be so green as to bend to dictates that make no sense whatever.

What really ought to puzzle people is the fact that the state faces pressure from federal regulators and special-interest groups to adopt a “science-based” policy involving virtually no science at all.

More

Comments

June 26, 2014 at 6:50 AM

Why Washington state — and Cathy McMorris Rodgers — play a pivotal role in Ex-Im debate

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

Few Spokane firms have been around longer than Commercial Creamery, in business since 1908, a manufacturer of food ingredients with worldwide sales. It lost business in the Middle East after the invasion of Iraq but found a new market for its powdered cheese in the Philippines and Indonesia. The company covered the invoices with insurance from the federal Export-Import Bank.

All in all, not really the most exciting of transactions. Which is why company President Michael Gilmartin marvels at the current firestorm in Congress over the bank’s reauthorization, fast becoming the debate of the season. Unless a bill passes the obscure 80-year-old institution will die Oct. 1. Gilmartin says there’s something entertaining about an argument in which Democrats are lining up for an enterprise that supports business and Republicans are lining up against it. “But I’d rather see them work on something that everyone agrees is a problem, like the Internal Revenue Service.”

Unlike most issues that consume Congress this one seems to have a clear Washington state focus: Boeing is the biggest customer for the bank’s export loans, credit insurance and loan guarantees. Washington Democrat Denny Heck is sponsoring the bill for the bank’s reauthorization, and 11 out of 12 members of the state’s congressional delegation have declared their support. Yet the one member who hasn’t made up her mind could play the most pivotal role of all. That’s Gilmartin’s congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and that makes Spokane and the 5th Congressional District ground zero for the debate.

More

Comments

June 17, 2014 at 8:12 AM

Gag order in insurance-commissioner ruckus makes case for reform

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at Monday's hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at Monday’s hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Even if lawmakers couldn’t ask specific questions about the alleged-nasty-business at the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, a hearing Monday in the state Senate presented an outstanding argument for reform. It started with the careful way that administrative law judge Patricia Petersen had to choose her words.

Petersen started a ruckus last month when she said her bosses in Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office have been leaning on her in order to obtain favorable rulings. At Monday’s hearing of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, she spoke publicly for the first time since her accusation — but she labored under a gag order from Kreidler that prevented her from talking specifically about her case.

So Petersen found another way to make her point. In general, she told the committee it is a big mistake for judges to answer to the agency heads who employ them. In the aggregate, it would be “a travesty” if people who appeal state-agency decisions don’t get a fair hearing. “And if a judge is told by a party [to a case] to decide his or her cases in a certain way and one party can threaten the judge’s job if the case is not decided in that party’s favor, then the central pillar of our democracy is corroded.”

The fact that she had to tell her story that way — at Kreidler’s insistence — ties the whole thing up with ribbon and a bow. In written complaints filed previously, Petersen says she was threatened with a negative job evaluation because she wouldn’t submit to control; she now is on administrative leave while Kreidler’s office coordinates an investigation of itself. Maybe speaking generally is the right thing to do in this situation – the matter is bigger than the Office of Insurance Commissioner. Petersen’s job hangs by a thread because she has challenged a system that allows state agencies to dictate the outcome of administrative hearings. The problem ought to appall anyone who believes the judicial system should operate with a semblance of fairness.

More

Comments | Topics: insurance commissioner, mike kreidler, patricia petersen

June 12, 2014 at 7:40 AM

Ignoring the ‘other Washington’ on Export-Import Bank

They call Ex-Im the 'Bank of Boeing,' but its number-two beneficiary in the state of Washington is the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. (Times photo)

They call Ex-Im the ‘Bank of Boeing,’ but its number-two beneficiary in the state of Washington is the Chateau Ste. Michelle winery. (Times photo)

Why on Earth should the federal government help Boeing sell airplanes?

That question was posed by the Wall Street Journal editorial page this week, while the Association of Washington Business (AWB) pounded on office doors back in Washington, D.C. Two indications that the battle over the federal Export-Import Bank is heating up in the other Washington – an issue of vital interest to this state’s business community.

The obscure 80 year-old institution, normally the least controversial of federal agencies, is in the fight of its life as a reauthorization deadline approaches Oct. 1. Opposition to the bank seems a mishmash of election-year positioning and lofty conservative rhetoric, promoted by think tanks and opinion leaders on the right.

Yet this position does not reflect a universally held conservative belief, and the argument is oddly disconnected from the realities of business. Washington state’s business community seems to have a bit firmer grounding in the real world.

The Seattle Times has editorialized in favor of the bank’s survival, and says it’s high time for Washington’s congressional delegation, Republicans in particular, to make a strong public statement in the bank’s favor.

More

Comments

June 12, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Victoria sewage rubs Washington officials raw — as it should

UPDATE: CHEK-TV in Victoria offers this report on the international stink.

Victoria's unofficial mascot, Mr. Floatie, speaks to the media at a 2006 press conference on Victoria sewage. Though James Skwarok hung up his suit when it appeared Vancouver Island would build a sewage treatement plant, he has come out of retirement for a "second movement." (Photo by Bruce Stotesbury/ Victoria Times Colonist)

Victoria’s unofficial mascot, Mr. Floatie, speaks to the media at a 2006 press conference on Victoria sewage. Though James Skwarok hung up his suit when it appeared Vancouver Island would build a sewage treatement plant, he has since come out of retirement for a “second movement.” (Photo by Bruce Stotesbury/ Victoria Times Colonist)

Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine say they smell something mighty funny about those north-of-the-border promises that eventually, someday, sometime soon, the greater Victoria area will stop dumping its raw sewage in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In a letter to the premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, they call on the provincial government to discharge the many pledges it has made. And please, not in the ocean.

Inslee and Constantine are following up on an issue reported on the Times editorial page Monday – plans for a Vancouver-Island sewage-treatment plant have fallen apart.

Even if we didn’t know the plant has been in the pipeline for more than 20 years, it would be easy to tell just how divisive this issue seems to be north of the border.  Monday’s editorial provoked some 20 letters to the editor, most from the Victoria area — one of them from Mary Polak, British Columbia’s minister of the environment.

Victoria’s filthy habit has been a concern for Washington state since former Gov. Chris Gregoire was director of the Department of Ecology. Indeed, an entire generation of politicians has come and gone as officials in Washington and British Columbia have shaken hands, signed accords and agreed that something certainly will be done. Now the planning process seems to have hit a brick wall because the city council in the town of Esquimalt, on the island shore, used its zoning authority two months ago to block construction of a $721 million (U.S.) sewage plant. “Greater Victoria is not doing its fair share,” says the letter from Inslee and Constantine. “This is of significant concern for the health of the rest of the region’s waterways.”

More

Comments

June 9, 2014 at 8:30 AM

Tim Eyman’s intriguing counterattack to Seattle’s $15 minimum wage

Tim Eyman drops off signatures in 2012 for his successful two-thirds-for-taxes measure, I-1185.

Tim Eyman drops off signatures in 2012 for his successful two-thirds-for-taxes measure, I-1185.

Ever since the Seattle City Council voted Monday for a first-of-its-kind $15 minimum wage, we’ve been hearing about real and potential court challenges, referenda and amendments to the city charter – local counterattacks for a measure of national significance. Not that anyone thought the fight was over. But Tim Eyman seems to have hit on an idea that takes the issue to an entirely different battlefield, the statewide ballot, where it might more easily be defeated.

The tireless Mukilteo initiative promoter last week filed an initiative to the Legislature that reflects an important insight. Seattle can be beaten when the rest of the state votes against it. His initiative would declare that minimum wages must be uniform across the state — in other words, any wage hike would have to pass muster at the Capitol and not at Seattle City Hall. So Seattle’s increase likely would be doomed by statehouse politics and an economy that simply won’t support high wages in every hamlet and hollow.

Eyman isn’t the only one thinking about a statewide preemption initiative. The same thing would be accomplished by I-1358, a late-starting measure for this year’s ballot filed by Rick Forschler, former councilman in the city of SeaTac. Forschler’s campaign faces a tough July deadline for signatures and so far reports no fund-raising; Eyman’s seems the stronger contender because it aims for the 2015 ballot and faces a January deadline.

Maybe neither will be the ultimate vehicle for a statewide counterattack. But the tactic seems such a strong bet it would be a surprise if no one tries it.

More

Comments

June 2, 2014 at 6:07 AM

At least some are asking right questions in Insurance Commissioner case

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

At least some Olympians seem to be asking the right questions about a rather nasty allegation of misconduct in the Washington Office of the Insurance Commissioner.  Among them is state Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, who plans a hearing June 16 that will put the matter on center stage.

A former Spokane County District Court judge, Padden says he is disturbed at the accusation that has been leveled by administrative law judge Patricia Petersen. She claims her boss in the office threatened her job in order to obtain favorable rulings.

“I just know, from 12 years as a district court judge, that independence is a bedrock principle the entire judiciary should embrace,” Padden says.

Padden is a Republican and Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is a Democrat, but the Senate committee’s inquiry is precisely what Olympia should be doing – poking, prodding, exposing facts and dealing with the central issue of the case. If only those who are more directly responsible felt the same way.

More

Comments | Topics: insurance commissioner, legislature, mike kreidler

May 28, 2014 at 8:20 AM

Export-Import Bank more than just the ‘Bank of Boeing’

Boeing 777X

Boeing 777X

In this Washington, the idea that a federal agency helped Boeing sell 106 airliners last year might have us doing handstands, especially when we learn that it didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. The Export-Import Bank of the United States did it by offering $7.9 billion in loans, loan guarantees and credit insurance to foreign purchasers of Boeing aircraft, the same sort of thing it has done for the last 80 years.

Leave it to the other Washington to turn things upside down. Critics in Congress say this represents failure. They are leading a crusade to shut down the bank, on grounds that its lending to large corporations represents “corporate welfare” and crony capitalism.”

Somehow conservative rhetoric has been harnessed for a cause that will hamper America’s ability to compete in markets abroad, and the argument is so lofty it drifts in the direction of outer space. But here’s what counts. If Congress fails to reauthorize the bank by Oct. 1, the little guy gets whacked just like Boeing does. It’s not just the Bank of Boeing.

More

Comments | Topics: congress, credit, ex-im

Next Page »