Environmental lobby looks to exert clout
Fresh off one of their most successful legislative sessions in recent memory, the environmental lobby has united behind four priorities for the 2008 legislative session.
The legislative goals are modest monetarily but tackle significant public policy issues of global warming and healthier, livable communities. It’s an ambitious agenda that lawmakers should embrace when they convene in Olympia in January.
Flexing their muscle
Environmentalists have learned that they can flex their collective muscle in Olympia when they unite behind a limited list of top priorities. Members of 21 environmental groups including Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, and Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, sit down together and develop a list they call “Priorities for a Healthy Washington.” They start with 30 or 35 priorities, and whittle them down to four legislative proposals they believe they can realistically achieve. They’ve learned that collectively, environmentalists have more power and more success.
That was demonstrated this year when they achieved all four 2007 legislative objectives.
They helped the governor create a new state agency dedicated to the clean up of Puget Sound. They got $100 million in the state construction budget to double state funding for the purchase of land for parks, wildlife habitat and to save farms and shorelines. They helped pass a bill to phase out use of toxic flame retardants in certain consumer products such as electronics, mattresses, floor coverings and drapes. And they successfully pushed a package of bills aimed at the promotion of biofuel technology and increased use of clean fuels and vehicles.
The 2008 priorities
The four priorities for 2008 are:
• Local farms, healthy kids: Through changes in state procurement laws and establishment of pilot projects, the lobby hopes to create an opportunity for local farmers to sell their healthy produce directly to school districts. Farmers win, and children learn the importance of healthy eating habits at an early age, said Mo McBroom of the Washington Environmental Council.
Additionally, the bill would make it easier for low-income families to purchase locally grown food by enabling farmers markets to accept food stamps. The program also would increase funding of the Farmers Market Nutrition Program and create pilot projects for food banks to purchase fresh food directly from Washington farms. Startup costs are estimated at $4 million.
• Evergreen cities: The growth management act funnels growth into cities as a means of ending urban sprawl. With in-filling and higher population densities, huge stands of trees are disappearing. In this community, we need look no farther than Tumwater Hill, the destruction of trees for the new strip mall at College Street and Yelm Highway or the commercial development in Hawks Prairie where Costco and Home Depot have replaced acres of evergreens.
This legislative proposal is an effort to get more trees into cities — in parks, developments, open spaces and along city streets. The primary emphasis is to have the state Department of Natural Resources develop a statewide inventory and assessment of community forests and provide funding for cities to adopt and enforce tree ordinances and tree management plans. The bill encourages partnerships with local groups of volunteers to plant additional trees. Startup costs are $1 million.
• Local solutions to global warming: As part of the Growth Management Act, cities and counties are required to adopt comprehensive plans that dictate where growth will occur and what areas will be left rural in nature. Government jurisdictions must meet 14 goals on everything from coordination of transportation services to appropriate zoning regulations.
This environmental priority would create a 15th goal. As part of their land use planning, cities with 30,000 or more residents and counties with more than 50,000 people would be required to establish plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Startup costs are $1 million.
• Washington climate action: The fourth, environmental proposal creates a structure and time line for achieving Washington’s global warming pollution reduction goals. The bill also begins a program to prepare Washington workers for jobs in a clean-energy economy. Startup costs: $2.5 million to $4 million.
Look for the environmental lobby to exert its collective clout in 2008 and make considerable progress on four important goals to create a healthier state.