Governor wants legislative hearings for emergency, fuel issues

Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday called for joint legislative hearings in October to study Washington’s preparedness in case of disaster, the high price of gas and diesel fuels, and alternative energy options.

“I’m asking our House and Senate leaders to initiate joint legislative hearings in October to see what we can do based on key lessons in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” Gov. Gregoire said. “I am asking them to give careful thought and thorough considerations to two key areas, emergency preparedness and the high price of gas, short term and long term.”

Gov. Gregoire said Hurricane Katrina and emergencies in Washington State left valuable lessons that need study for the future.

“This is a perfect opportunity to test out our own processes. Like fire, earthquake and tsunami drills, we’ll be better prepared for when a natural disaster comes to our state,” she said. “We learned some important lessons about what to do if and when disaster strikes our state, but we can do better.

“If the Nisqually earthquake had lasted a mere 15 seconds longer, the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle and SR 520 would have crumbled, and bridges all up and down the I-5 corridor would have been highly vulnerable. The loss of life could have been devastating, and the long-term economic impact crippling,” said Gov. Gregoire.

“Because we have neglected infrastructure projects like the Viaduct and SR 520, they are vulnerable. These are our levees, and the earthquake is our hurricane. We are not going to be given a warning. You can’t see an earthquake coming.”

Gov. Gregoire asked legislators to thoroughly consider the high price of gas for the long-term. “Our refineries here have continued to function at full capacity, so there is no apparent reason that Washington gas prices increased in response to Katrina. I have asked the U.S. Attorney General to look into oil company profits on the short-term, but we as a state can study the big picture,” she said.

The Governor called for leaders to study alternative energy sources for long-term solutions to a dependence on oil. She recently charged Agriculture Director Valoria Loveland to play a leading role in leading a multi-agency effort on bioenergy.

“Bioenergy reduces our dependence on petroleum fuels, especially imported fuels. It improves our energy independence and keeps our petro-dollars in Washington. It creates new jobs in the state, reduces pollution and reduces other environmental problems and risks, and it helps farmers maintain the profitability of their farms,” she said.

Dependence on oil is crippling Washington’s farmers, she said. “Our farmers are paying out more for a gallon of diesel fuel than they earn for a bushel of wheat. We may have the opportunity to plug our farmers right into the fuels they need. They could be producing the crops to make the fuel.”

The Governor made her remarks during a 12:30 p.m. Capitol press conference where she was joined by House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Sen. Marilyn Rasmussen, D-Eatonville, who represented Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, as well as Agriculture Director Valoria Loveland, Chief John Batiste, Washington State Patrol, General Administration Director Linda Bremer and Jim Mullen of Emergency Management Director.