Audit: Port Of Seattle's Clean-Diesel Subsidy Illegal

Dec 11, 2012

A state audit that criticized the Port of Seattle for accidentally giving away free parking at Sea-Tac Airport has also faulted the Port for some intentional gift giving.

State auditors said a program that pays ocean-going ships to use low-sulfur fuel while they dock in Seattle constitutes an illegal gift of public funds.

The Port of Seattle and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency have jointly provided $2.2 million in fuel subsidies in the past three years. The Port says the program has reduced the soot emitted by ocean-going ships on the Seattle waterfront by a third.

State auditor Brian Sonntag said the law doesn't make exceptions for good intentions.

“There’s a prohibition against any public agency gifting, or giving away, the public’s money,” said Sonntag. “You can’t do that. State law’s very clear.”

He said it doesn’t matter if the gifting provides an important public benefit like clean air.

“It absolutely doesn’t matter what the reason is,” said Sonntag. “That’s why we have public policies and elected officials who make these decisions in the public, on behalf of the public.”

The Port of Seattle told auditors it does not believe the fuel subsidy is illegal. But it said it would work with the auditor's office to restructure the program.