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New Bills Target Washington Department of Ecology

Washington State Wire

Two bills that aim to give more oversight to the Washington Department of Ecology were among the first to receive hearings in this year’s legislative session. Four Spokane-area legislators are among the bills’ co-sponsors.

When the Department of Ecology writes a new rule, it’s required to create a cost-benefit analysis and a small business economic impact statement.

House Bill 1014 targets that process.

First, the bill by lead sponsor Representative Matt Shea would require the agency to solicit outside reviews of its economic analyses by qualified professionals, before finalizing and implementing new rules.

“I think that a robust, peer-reviewed analysis of economics and economic impacts of these types of regulations has to be in place for us to make good decisions as a legislature,” Shea said. 

Second, Shea’s bill would require those analyses to include optimistic and pessimistic projections in the final cost benefit analyses. If a rule is deemed to cost more than the projected benefit, it could not be adopted.

The bill received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Gary Smith, the executive director of the Independent Business Association.

“This is a very interesting proposal that has been put forward,” Smith said. “It’s badly needed. If you want jobs, jobs are created by small businesses. That’s the historic job creator in the state of Washington. You can’t keep putting more costs on small businesses and expect them to create jobs.”

That view of the agency and its rule making was also voiced by Addy Republican Representative Shelly Short.

“You know, what we see a lot of times and I hear from small business is you’re trying to jigger it so it doesn’t show there’s any impacts,” Short said.

Denise Clifford from the Department of Ecology said her agency does employ economists who work with the regulatory staff to consider the fiscal impacts of new rules.

“We definitely look at what is the least burdensome costs and we compare that to what we’re required to do and we look at that middle ground," Clifford said. "Sometimes it’s got to be middle ground because we’re required to do something that is going to go beyond the least burdensome costs.”

Clifford offered to work with committee members to help the agency evolve in considering the fiscal impacts of its regulations. But she said some of the requirements of the bill, to solicit outside peer reviews, for example, could add months to what are already lengthy rulemaking processes.

The second bill the House Environment Committee considered, House Bill 1010, would require the Department of Ecology to report back to the legislature each December on all of its agreements with outside agencies. Shea said lawmakers need to keep better track of the agency’s fiscal and policy impacts.

Clifford said she appreciates the desire to bring more transparency to what her department does.

“But the bill as it’s written right now would be a little bit difficult for us to meet, both in terms of the timing and the IT costs that would required as a result of the requirements of the bill,” she said.

Both bills received hearings by the House Environment Committee on Monday, the first day of the session. In addition to Representatives Shea and Short, the co-sponsors include Spokane Valley Representative Bob McCaslin and Cheney Representative Jeff Holy.