Sunday, December 9, 2012

This is Regulatory Reform?

In earlier blogs, I’d alerted readers to how the Department of Ecology is proposing a makeover of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) provisions to exempt development actions requiring environmental review. Tomorrow, December 11, is the final day to comment on the rule makeover:

“In the first of a two-part rulemaking, the Washington Department of Ecology is proposing changes to the State Environmental Policy Act which would, among a number of changes, give local governments the option to select the exempt threshold for single-family housing developments from between four to up to 30 units. For multi-family buildings, local governments could select from four to up to 60 units as the exempt level while the threshold for minor agricultural construction projects could be between 10,000 to 40,000 square feet. The public comment period for the proposed rule is open until Dec. 11. Ecology seeks public comment on draft SEPA rule changes

SEPA is not a perfect tool to require environmental review of residential and multi-family development but it provides a way for the public to comment on development actions and to appeal governmental actions, if appeal is warranted. Raise the threshold to make projects exempt from SEPA may make life easier for developers and government jurisdictions but at the expense of public oversight.

Our man on the Peninsula Al Bergstein has written to the Department of Ecology objecting to this proposed change in exemption levels, and Al and I encourage you to do the same and email your comments
 by COB Tuesday.

December 7, 2012   
Department of Ecology 
ATTN: Fran Sant 
PO Box 44703 
Olympia, WA 98504-7600   
To Whom It May Concern:
  I am writing to comment on the proposed SEPA rule changes, as documented in October 2012.
I am writing to strongly object to the proposed changes to the SEPA rules, as they pertain to the following sections:·        Proposed changes to WAC 197-11-800(1)
o   I strongly oppose establishing separate flexible thresholds for local governments as laid out in the following sections.              
§  Section 1 b i and ii
·        This change appears to significantly weaken environmental protections by exempting local counties for projects of what is arbitrarily determined by Ecology to be ‘significant’. There is no supporting information about how these sizes of projects were scientifically formulated, nor any basis for believing they will beneficial to the environment or not.
§  Section iii of same
·        Additionally, this seems to be an arbitrary size, that does not scientifically establish whether a single project may do significant harm to a local environment.
§  Section iv of same
·        Again, these sizes of projects being exempted do not seem to have any supporting scientific backing to establish why these exemptions are deemed appropriate.
§  Section C level iii
·        The idea of 21 days to challenge significant changes to the rules changes on a local basis puts too high a burden on what are usually underfunded local citizens, their governments and interested organizations. Often these groups meet monthly, and establishing a 6 week timeframe seems to be more in tune with allowing citizens to have adequate time to prepare a challenge to a rule.
§  These rule changes in the table could just as easily been substantially larger or smaller, as there is no scientific understanding why these numbers were chosen.

As a bureaucracy that is charged with bringing a scientific point of view to the process of protecting our common environment, we of the public rely on the Department of Ecology to use Best Available Science (BAS) in making these decisions. By not substantiating these rules changes by using BAS, the Department puts themselves, and the taxpayers that fund them, at substantial risk of a challenging (and costly) lawsuit. Courts have ruled over and over again in the last decade that BAS is a standard as a credible method of making environmental rules, especially in supporting challenges to the State’s Shoreline Master Program and Critical Areas Ordinances.

As a person who is working on a variety of issues, including currently being a member of  the Jefferson County Marine Resource Committee, edit the Olympic Peninsula Environmental News, and have been a working member of the Jefferson County Shoreline Management Program, Citizen Advisory Group, I support holding off making these changes (while going ahead with the others in this rules change), in order to produce credible evidence that these changes will not harm the environment.


Al Bergstein
Member - Jefferson County Marine Resource Committee
Member – Strait ERN – Puget Sound Partnership
Jefferson County
1607 Admiralty Ave.
Port Townsend, WA 98368
--Mike Sato

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