EDITORIAL: Environmental lobby sets good priorities
Environmentalists in this state have learned that they can have more influence if they pool their resources and unite behind a handful of top legislative priorities.
The Environmental Priorities Coalition is made up of 24 of the state's leading groups all rallying behind the effort to protect land, air and water resources. Membership includes Climate Solutions, Sierra Club, American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. Leaders of the organizations 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.
This year's priorities tackle climate change, energy efficiency, how we develop our communities and clean water.
"This is not the year to be walking with your hands out," said Clifford Traisman, lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters. "We believe our priorities go hand in hand with generating a stronger economy."
Lawmakers face a $5.1 billion budget shortfall, so they will have little interest in lobbyists who approach them urging new programs that will cost more money and enlarge the deficit.
Traisman and the environmental community recognize that. He predicts a "long, dark and cold session," but notes that environmentalists have shaped their goals with the budget in mind.
The 2009 priorities are:
• Global warming: The environmentalists want to auction off rather than give away pollution credits that allow industries to emit greenhouse gases. Under their proposal polluters would pay for permits and the additional revenue "would be invested to reduce fossil fuel dependence, create green jobs and spur new clean-tech innovation, while providing assistance to moderate- and low-income households struggling with high energy costs."
The environmentalists say their plan will protect the environment, benefit the economy and position the state to be a leader in a clean-energy economy.
• Energy efficiency: The environmentalists believe the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to focus on energy efficiency. They will promote energy efficient homes, businesses and public institutions and believe the efficiency measures will "create thousands of good, family-wage jobs in Washington." Their proposal, for example, would require energy-use information to be posted on buildings offered for sale or lease.
• Planning for growth: Environmentalists propose to change the way communities plan for population growth. They want to change the "transportation and land-use planning framework to assist local jurisdictions to plan for growth in a sustainable and climate-friendly way." They propose incentives for cities and developers who create "affordable, walkable and transit-oriented communities."
• Clean water: Environmentalists are proposing that polluters pay fees for their discharges. The coalition will come up with a revenue package to pay for Puget Sound cleanup and restoration of Washington's rivers and lakes. Environmentalists say "by investing in stormwater infrastructure, toxics prevention and other programs, we create new jobs, relieve financial pressure on local government and promote new economic stimulus."
It's an ambitious agenda focused on the right targets. Look for the environmental lobby to exert its collective clout in 2009 as it has in the past with a focus on creating a healthier, more livable state where natural resources are enhanced, not compromised.