With the ink on his transportation bills signatures barely dry, Gov. Jay Inslee is reportedly close to signing an order that would wipe out more than $700 million in bicycle, pedestrian and other non-vehicular projects the bill funds, the proposed footbridge linking the University District and the East Sprague neighborhood among them.
He must also, by Aug. 3, tell the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency whether he will stick by draft clean water standards he announced a year ago, or defer to the agency, which hankers to impose unattainable requirements that will jeopardize Washington businesses. (The Inland Empire Paper Co., which might be affected, is an affiliate of The Spokesman-Review.)
We thought that proposal struck a good balance between environmental health and potential implementation costs. But the Legislature’s failure to pass a bill that would have addressed toxins not covered by the Clean Water Act has him backpedaling.
He need not. There was no explicit agreement HB 1472 was one-half of the plan the EPA wants. His proposal, which substantially raised the amount of fish that can be consumed without raising health risks, was reasonable.
Let the EPA prove otherwise in court.
Inslee signed the transportation bills even though they contain a “poison pill” that redirects bike/pedestrian funds if he imposes clean fuel standards intended to encourage the adoption of cleaner, blended fuels, and more use of vehicles that need little or no gasoline. Implementing the standards, along with a cap-and-trade regimen to reduce carbon emissions, has long been an objective.
But Republicans warned that the fuel standards might add as much as $1 to the price of a gallon of gas, which was a major reason a transportation bill was not enacted a year ago. The poison pill was written into this year’s legislation to assure – at least that was the intent – Inslee relent rather than scuttle an overdue $16 billion package of transportation improvements. Full funding for the North Spokane Corridor is a central component.
The pill sweeps all the money for bike and pedestrian projects into the pool of funds dedicated to street and bridge improvements, which is what Republicans have favored all along. Not so much proponents of more bicycle lanes, safe paths to schools and transit: The amount Puget Sound Transit could seek to expand its light-rail system would be halved.
Why, they ask, take money away from clean transportation projects to pursue a clean fuels agenda?
Good question. And why celebrate a multimodal transportation bill knowing you might impose clean fuel standards that would eliminate hard-won support for nonmotorized travel?
Inslee should accept the deal he wrung from Republicans, who had to swallow hard accepting an 11.9-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase that will fund construction. Not many will care fewer bicyclists will be sharing the road if the governor goes for the new fuel standards.