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Thursday, September 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hearings proposed on costly gas, diesel

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Gov. Christine Gregoire is calling for lawmakers to hold joint legislative hearings next month to discuss emergency preparedness as well as high gas prices that have hit the state as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

Gregoire will be joined by state lawmakers and state officials at a news conference today to announce the hearings.

"She thinks these issues are urgent," spokeswoman Althea Cawley-Murphree said yesterday. "We can't wait until January to start discussing them."

Gregoire's office says the increase in gas and diesel prices is hurting farmers and other industrial fuel users.

Damage to Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines by Katrina pushed retail gas prices to historic highs across the country over the past two weeks. Self-serve regular gasoline averaged more than $3 a gallon for the first time, according to a nationwide survey released Sunday.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said lawmakers want to look at alternative energy options for the state.

"This is not just a short-time pocketbook issue," she said. "This could be a long-term disruption to the economy."

Brown said that while House and Senate leaders need to decide on a schedule for the October hearings, she hoped to take the hearings outside of Olympia and around the state to get the most public comment.

"I am hopeful that some of the information that comes out of the hearings leads to legislation we can pass," she said.

State officials also want to discuss emergency preparedness and response.

Earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis are all threats to the state, said Rob Harper, spokesman for the state Department of Emergency Management.

"Geologically, we're in a pretty fragile area," he said. "It's all volatile."

Harper noted a June 14 tsunami warning that was never activated because of a faulty phone line. The warning was triggered by an earthquake off the California coast.

While a tsunami never materialized, the warning showed the glitches in the state system, something officials say was a wake-up call for the state's emergency-preparedness network.

Last month, Gregoire announced a plan to ensure that coastal residents have enough time to get to higher ground in case an earthquake triggers a potentially deadly wave.

Sen. Dave Schmidt, R-Mill Creek, said Washington was spared a potentially catastrophic event.

"We could've been looking at what happened in New Orleans," he said.

Schmidt said he wants to see a clear chain of command for emergencies established during the hearings.

Other lawmakers agree.

"We have been hearing from our constituents, concerned about our ability to respond to an emergency," said House Majority leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "We have been hearing, what's the plan? Do you have a plan? I think there is a real attitude among the legislators to try and put our constituents at ease to let them know, yes, we do have a plan."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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