Earth Day, in bits and pieces
Friday, April 20, 2007
Sunday is Earth Day and my greenest habit is envy.
I spent last week in an expensive earthquake zone wondering if a tsunami could put Oregon coastal property into my price range. Polar ice melt, my ticket to oceanfront living.
Oh, be nice. I see all the Washington license plates hogging the parking in popular beach towns. Maybe those tiny, $525,000, peek-a-boo, hillside building lots are yours.
Forgive the outburst of subprime attitude, because on the eve of the 38th Earth Day I am amazed at all there is to celebrate. Credit two characteristics: tenacity and the importance of bits and pieces.
In 1970, it was an iconic NASA photograph of Earth suspended in space — a cloud-covered blue ball — that fully conveyed the point the planet was ours to care for or lose. It was the quintessential Big Picture of what is at stake. Ultimately, the whole Earth is as finite a resource as beach property.
Environmental skirmishing has been fully engaged ever since.
A signature piece of political tenacity was rewarded this week as the U.S. House of Representatives voted to create the 106,577-acre Wild Sky Wilderness Area in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in eastern Snohomish County.
Past attempts had cleared the Senate, but the Wild Sky measure always ran aground in the House.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., refused to give up, and more to the point, they continued to work the details with virtually everyone who had a gripe, complaint or worry. Astute political stewardship of a good idea.
Wild Sky, accessible, lowland wilderness within 90 minutes of a metropolitan area, is a triumph of determination and smart, informed compromise.
A similar template has worked well for Washington's environmental community. More success is in sight as the Legislature wraps up the session.
Instead of a hodgepodge of competing legislation, leading green organizations agree on four priorities before the Legislature convenes. In the absence of any federal leadership from the Bush administration or a Republican Congress, tasks best accomplished at the national level have been borne by impatient states.
For 2007, Washington legislators are close to requiring state and local agencies to power their vehicles with alternative fuels by 2015. Running those fleets with cleaner, efficient fuels helps boost local demand, production and distribution for the rest of us. University research into sustainable fuel supplies is also funded.
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program is looking toward a $100 million infusion of state funding to catch up with population growth and related demand for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. Money for farmland conservation is in the plan as well.
In the spirit of moving ahead and fitting the pieces together, the state will ban two forms of toxic flame retardants and look for a safe alternative for a third. The legislation has limited exceptions, and progress and options are monitored by firefighting professionals.
Environmental groups pushed, prodded and sometimes ran to keep up with legislative enthusiasm to clean up Puget Sound. Sustained, expensive efforts will focus on stormwater runoff, water-quality protection, marine-habitat restoration and septic-system enforcement.
Bits and pieces are linked, such as banning toxic flame retardants that turn up in orcas.
Washington is leading, not waiting for others.
There is one curious lapse. Considering all the hard work to forge political and community partnerships to save the Sound, and ante up $200 million, there was a failure by Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democratic leadership to improve the financial stability of the state's oil-spill response.
Cleanup is paid for with a nickel-a-barrel tax on oil and petroleum products moving across the Sound. The fee is unchanged since 1991. Worse yet, a separate account for the Neah Bay rescue tug will dry up. The tug has one more winter before its docked in July, 2008. Wishful thinking has officials looking to the federal government for tug money.
The lesson of Earth Day is that all the small actions count. Cleaning up Puget Sound is huge, but it builds upon smaller pieces. Passing the buck on oil-spill prevention is an odd lapse indeed.
Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is