To sue or not to sue? Cleaning up Puget Sound’s copper problem

Three Sheets Northwest is an online boating magazine that has explored the delicate — and often perturbed — balance between environmental and economic interests during the all-hands-on-deck cleanup of Puget Sound.

Reporter Deborah Bach has been delving into the conflict between the bottom line and the health of the Sound by chronicling conflicts between the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and five boatyards that the environmental watchdog group has threatened to sue for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, which is accusing the boatyards of failing to prevent copper (which, in strong concentrations, can kill fish) from leaching into Puget Sound, says it is stepping up to enforce pollution provisions that the state Department of Ecology improperly waived.

The boatyards say that the legal threats are devastating their financial health at a time when they can least afford it.  And they’re angry that the suits ruptured a fragile and voluntary coalition between businesses, regulatory agencies and environmentalists.

Sailors and reporters Marty McOmber and Deborah Bach, formerly of The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, launched Three Sheets Northwest to focus their reporting chops on boating in the Puget Sound region.

Private donations save a Seattle plan to rescue teen prostitutes

rita_hibbardwebA Seattle program to rescue teenage prostitutes from the streets was going the way of budget cuts until private citizens stepped in with donations, ranging from checks of $5 to $100,000. Those contributions will help the city keep a pilot program designed to provide about 20 teenage prostitutes a year with emergency shelter, transitional housing and social services.

All told, the program will cost $1.5 million, with the city providing about $1.2 million, Sara Jean Green of the The Seattle Times writes.

“People don’t want to overanalyze it. They hear it, they know it’s out there, they think it’s wrong and they want to do something about it,” said Terri Kimball of the Seattle Human Services Department.

Things got rolling in the fall, when a Seattle investment advisor pledged $100,000 to help launch the program. He then challenged others to match his donation, and those who did included the Gates Foundation and and Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard and Mike McCready.

The investment advisor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has three daughters, and was moved to become involved after reading that there are between 300 and 500 teen prostitutes on the streets of King County at any given time. He and his wife usually donate to poorest Africa, he told Green in an interview, but decided to donate to this cause after reading of the need, and learning that there are only a few other residential rehab programs for teen prostitutes in the U.S. – in San Francisco, Los Angeles , New York and Atlanta.

Voters open their wallets for school levies across the state; lawmakers should take a lesson

Something is happening out there.

rita_hibbardwebWhile unemployment remains high and the economy down, folks are not looking inward and holding tight to their wallets. They’re passing school levies. They are thinking about the importance of the next generation of kids, other peoples’ kids, for the most part.

Ballots were counted all over the state yesterday, and all over the state yesterday the results were pretty much the same. School levies passed. In Seattle. In Vancouver. In Yakima. In Everett and Edmonds.

And the words school officials were using were “stellar” and “stupendous.” The support in many cases was well over the 60 percent mark. In Seattle, it was more than 71 percent in favor of two measures worth more than $700 million to pay for improved classroom offerings and construction projects.

So legislators, listen up. See that you take this lesson to heart. Your constituents are willing to open their wallets and hearts because they know the value of education to restart the economy and build futures. When it comes to funding K-12 and higher education in the state budget, see that you do the same.

— Rita Hibbard

Growing the budget during tough times to fund the Indian health care system

Op-ed by Mark Trahant

President Barack Obama answered an important philosophical question last week: How will the federal government fully fund a starved Indian health system?

The answer is budget by budget: The administration boosted spending by 13 percent in fiscal year 2010 and is proposing another 9 percent increase for 2011. But this budget does not resolve the contradiction between “historic underfunding” and the larger reality about federal spending. The proposed budget calls for $5.4 billion in spending for Indian health care, ranging from clinical services to facility maintenance and construction. (The bulk of that money, $4.4 billion would be from appropriations, the rest comes from health insurance collections and special grants.)

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: “Our budget also contains a significant increase in funds for the Indian Health Service as we continue to work to eliminate health disparities. It is the principle that we are trying to establish in our healthcare system – that regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or geography every American deserves high quality and affordable care.”

But while spending on Indian health is increasing – is it growing fast enough to catch up? There remains a significant gap between what is spent on an American Indian/Alaska Native patient than a federal prisoner, $2,130 per person versus $3,985. One measure used by the federal government is a benchmark based on spending for federal employees. The Indian Health Service is currently appropriated about 55 percent of that standard on per person basis.

Indeed, last April a tribal task force recommended a $2.1 billion increase in the budget authority for IHS in fy 2011. The tribal leaders called for a ten-year phase in of $21.2 billion to reach spending parity.

The chemicals within us

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester.

Judge rules constitution protects K-12 funding; but college students stage walkouts to protect budgets

It’s time to stand up for education funding.

What with a judge telling the state it’s been failing in its constitutional duty to fund K-12 education, and college students and staff across rita_hibbardwebthe state walking out of the classroom to speak out against budget cuts in higher ed, it’s heady stuff.

“State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable,” said King County Superior Court John Erlick in his ruling that the state has failed in its duty to provide for the education of school children. He ordered the Legislature to determine the cost of a basic education, then pay for it.

That sounds simple enough, but the devil is in those details, and the formula has been evaded for 30 years, as Erlick also pointed out in his ruling. He also warned lawmakers  the state’s fiscal crisis is not a good enough reason to ignore the state constitution.

The case was brought by a coalition of parents, educators and community leaders. But the state may appeal the ruling, The Seattle Times’ Linda Shaw reported.

That was the one part of the decision that the state’s attorneys found comforting.

“He left the remedy for whatever ails the system in the Legislature’s hands, and we believe that’s where it belongs,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Clark.

But while parents were ecstatic, the joy was shared by the state’s leading educator, state superintendent of education Randy Dorn, Shaw wrote.

“It’s a great day for kids.

Hope for homeless vets in Seattle – a government, nonprofit and private collaboration

There are a lot of homeless people living in cars or camping out under overpasses in Lake City. So many that the Seattle neighborhood has its own task force on homelessness. But this is a task force that helps turn words into action.

rita_hibbardwebJohn, a Vietnam veteran who lived on the streets of Lake City for 15 years, says it’s “scary” to move into his own apartment.  He hopes he will find camaraderie in his new apartment building where 38 of the 75 units are reserved for homeless vets.

“The thing is to have people become a family here and not 75 individuals,” John told Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times. “It’s important that people watch out for each other.”

John’s sentiments remind me of Stan, who I met outside the Seattle Center last weekend after attending a session on homelessness at the Guiding Lights weekend conference. The session, presented by Bill Block, project director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, volunteer and author Judy Lightfoot and homeless advocate Joe Ingram, highlighted the number of homeless people in Seattle and King County, and how we as individuals can relate to them person-to-person.

Just say ‘no’ to plastic and paper – bring your own bags until lawmakers – and voters – get the courage to act

Just say no.

To paper and plastic.

An Oregon lawmaker is backing legislation to ban plastic bags. A big fight is shaping up, with plastic bag makers pointing to the  harmful effects of paper, and asking ‘who can say paper is worse than plastic?’ In Seattle last year, rita_hibbardwebvoters bowed to big spending by big plastic and chemical interests and voted down a proposal to  impose fees on all disposable bags.

The Oregon battle, a long shot to begin with, will be a tough one, marked by rhetoric and big spending by corporate interests that have derailed similar efforts around the nation. Expect that to continue. Why? Because nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year, compared to about 5 billion paper bags.

“The plastic industry … will try to win local battle by local battle,”  Marc Mihaly, director of the environmental law center at Vermont Law School, says of such contests. “They will intimidate where they can. If they can’t intimidate … they will try to influence legislators.”

But all of us could make the decision ourselves, and just bring our own re-usable bags. Yeah, it’s hard to remember.  And really annoying to carry five oranges, a jar of honey and three cans of dog food out of the store with no bag. But, sigh, we could save a lot of money and energy and advertising brochures headed for the landfill if we just said ‘no.’  To non-reusable bags, that is.

The Oregonian’s Scott Learn writes that State Sen.

Information and transparency as a tool for health care reform

Op-ed by Mark Trahant

Paul Levy’s Running A Hospital “is a blog started by a CEO of a large Boston hospital to share thoughts about hospitals, medicine, and health care issues.” The postings started as a lark. But when the president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center writes openly, that sends a message that filters down throughout the system. Other hospital professionals started blogs and more hospital data was posted in real time making transparency a core value.

TrahantPeople already use the Web to search out medical information of all kinds (several studies show it second only to porn for Internet searches). Health organizations have a natural, built in audience of people wanting to know what’s going on.

So how do health professionals by and large manage this interest?

“Effective immediately, the Hospital is blocking access to social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter from all Hospital computers,” says an internal memo from another system as blogged by Levy. “The Executive Team will be working in the coming months to ensure that we have written policies in place that articulate the appropriate use of social networking sites while on duty at the Hospital. Once these written policies are in place, we have educated all employees about expectations and disciplinary action associated with violating the policies.”

The message is clear. Information is scary.

Let’s try this again: Washington state Senate passes a bill limiting the use of BPA

Mothers take great care to provide the best for their children, choosing nutritious formula and food for their young. So why is a chemical that may hinder a child’s development allowed in baby bottles and sippy cups?

That was the sentiment behind a 36-9 vote in the Washington state SenatJennifere today for a bill (SB 6248) to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers for young children. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this week 95-1, but that bill (HB 1180) went further by also banning the chemical in bottles containing sports drinks such as Gatorade.

BPA is widely used in shatterproof plastic containers for food and drinks, as well as a plastic lining in cans for food and soda. Studies have shown that when these containers become hot, whether through microwaving or by pouring hot liquid into them, BPA can seep into the food or drink. This is also occurs when the plastics get scratched over time.

Federal safety regulators have expressed concern about the harmful effects the chemical could have on fetuses and young children’s brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. The chemical has also been linked to a variety of cancers, diabetes, and obesity.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “believes there are great causes for concern, especially among the youngest,” said Rep.