Environmentalists optimistic Legislature will lend a hand
Saturday, January 6, 2007
The environmental community looks toward the 2007 state Legislature's beginning Monday with high hopes it can get all four of its priority measures passed.
Environmental groups are counting on the Democratic majority and alliances with Gov. Chris Gregoire on key issues to advance Puget Sound cleanup; keep the state moving on a clean-energy future; ban toxic flame retardants in televisions, computers and residential upholstered furniture; and double state funding for the purchase of parks and open space.
"We're picking issues that don't pit the economy against the environment," said Clifford Traisman, lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters. "Given the makeup of the Legislature, we expect to go four for four."
Although a perfect batting record might be a lofty goal, the environmental community has spent months fine-tuning its agenda to resonate with public values while also lining up advance legislative support.
The environmental community's top four priorities in the 2007 state Legislature are:
1. Support Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget request of $220 million in additional money to clean up and protect Puget Sound. Chance of passage: good.
2. A bill to promote biofuel technology and increased use of clean fuels and vehicles. Chance of passage: good.
3. A bill to phase out the use of toxic flame retardants in certain consumer products. Chance of passage: better than ever, Senate vote is the key.
4. A $100 million capital budget request to double state funding for buying parks space, wildlife habitat, farms and shorelines. Chance of passage: It might be tough to get the full requested $100 million. Gregoire calls for $70 million.
A case in point: the bill to ban toxic flame retardants has 53 sponsors in the House, which is three more than what's needed for a simple majority "yes" vote.
The House passed the bill last year, but it failed in the Senate, where the chemical industry put up a stiff fight.
"I think we can pass it in the Senate this year," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County.
Backers this year have the advantage of support from the governor and the state Department of Ecology.
A phase-out of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, is viewed as one of the actions needed to clean up Puget Sound.
"Everywhere scientists look, from orca whales to mothers' breast milk, they find PBDEs," said Gregg Small, executive director of the Washington Toxics Coalition.
The chemical accumulates and is linked to learning, memory and behavior problems in people, Small said.
"We are one bill away from significantly improving the safety and health of our children," said one of the prime sponsors of House Bill 1024, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina.
In Puget Sound
The governor and environmental community are lined up behind a $220 million package for Puget Sound recovery, part of a long-range plan
that Gregoire launched in December 2005 called the Puget Sound Initiative. The goal is a cleaner, healthier Puget Sound by 2020.
Lawmakers will be asked to make a down payment on what will be a multibillion-dollar effort to turn back the tide of pollution, habitat loss and declining species in the face of growth expected to bring 1.4 million more people to the Puget Sound basin in the next 15 years.
"This is not a bipartisan issue; it's a nonpartisan issue," said Naki Stevens, program director for People for Puget Sound. "Puget Sound is at a crisis point, if not a tipping point."
The money, which is on top of $571 million the state spends every two years on Puget Sound, would be used to restore habitat, curb stormwater runoff and clean up and prevent toxic pollution, among other things.
The legislation also calls for a new governing body to lead the cleanup effort and require accountability and performance measures among those assigned the task.
"Accountability is what has been lacking in the past," Stevens said.
Building on 2006 legislation that launched the state's clean-energy industry, the 2007 clean air-clean fuels bill is designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil, eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and help keep some of the $30 million a day in gas and oil imports from leaving the state, said K.C. Golden, policy director for Climate Solutions, a climate change watchdog group.
The $20 million bill would:
- Fund research to convert plant waste into fuels.
- Provide $5 million in grants to school districts and others to buy clean-diesel buses that would reduce children's exposure to toxic air pollution.
- Call for a 25 percent reduction in petroleum use in the state's vehicle fleet by 2020.
Environmentalists are part of a broader coalition that seeks $100 million in the two-year state capital budget to finance state and local parks, nature preserves, freshwater and saltwater shoreline land, and farm preservation.
Historically, the state has chipped in about $50 million every two years for the past 16 years, but that's not keeping up with population growth and development, lobbyist Mike Ryherd said.
For instance, the trend toward high-density housing in the urban areas puts a premium on the need for more neighborhood parks to allow places for children and families to gather.
"Studies show that housing values go up the closer you are to a park," Ryherd said.
Gregoire called for $70 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Approved funding probably will land somewhere between the governor's and the coalition's request, state Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, predicted.
John Dodge covers the environment and energy for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or email@example.com.