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March 21, 2019

3/13/2019 12:02:00 PM
We are running out of time to protect the orca

By Debra Lekanoff
During the summer of 2018 the world watched as a mother orca swam 1,000 miles with her dead calf draped across her back. For 17 long days we waited – helpless to stop her pain and worried about how long she could sustain her journey. People worldwide began to wonder if it was possible to die from a broken heart.
It is eight months later, and I still cannot erase the images of Tahlequah’s “tour of grief” from my memory. This is not the reason our state should garner the international spotlight.
In 1989, I lived through the Alaskan Exxon Valdez oil spill. I watched as our killer whales died off, our ducks were thickly coated in oil and our seaweed was totally decimated. This ecological devastation cannot continue.
Let me say this: our killer whales are suffering just as the salmon have suffered for generations. These mighty leaders of the Salish Sea are starving, without the salmon, they will quickly fade from existence.
Additionally, their fat carries toxic waste while they drown from sound pollution. We must invest in a holistic approach to recover the Salish Sea and her biome now. This means investing in clean water, habitat and salmon recovery.
But we can’t stop there. It is vital we invest in oil spill prevention. We know that is not a matter of if a catastrophe will occur, but rather a matter of when.
In our state, we have made great strides in protecting our waters from oil spills through effective prevention policies. However, even just last month, the Department of Ecology and Coast Guard once again led efforts to clean up 100 gallons of red diesel fuel at the Westport Marina in Grays Harbor.
It’s clear we need to do more to protect our waters and marine life today.
In recent years, the uptick in marine vessel traffic and, more specifically, increased transport of oil tankers, has become increasingly dangerous. What will be the cost to our waters, land and economy when disaster finally strikes?
I am currently working on legislation to help reduce this risk – because even one spill will cause irreparable damage to our waters and our communities.
Combined with the leadership of Governor Inslee, House Bill 1587, would enact improved safety requirements designed to reduce the acute risk of oil spills which have the potential to eradicate the remaining 74 orcas swimming in our waters, devastate tribal fishing rights and undercut the many aspects of our economy that depend on Salish Sea.
This legislation would require tug escorts for small oil tankers and towed barges as they travel between the narrow straights making up the San Juan Islands.
As we reckon with the current and impending effects of climate change, this bill can be the beginning of a wider conversation spanning across all levels of our government and Canada on how we lessen the risk of oil spills in our waters.
We all must stand together to make these decisions that will impact generations to come. We have no time to wait.
If you have any questions about this legislation, or any other bill, please contact my office at Debra.Lekanoff@leg.wa.gov or (360)-786-7800
Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow) represents the 40th Legislative District.

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