State gives green thumbs up —

State gives green thumbs up

By John Dodge; April 24, 2007 © The Olympian

April 24, 2007

The state’s environmental community secured passage of its four-pronged environmental agenda in the 2007 state Legislature, it’s most successful session in recent memory.

By backing issues that had strong public and political support and linking environmental health to the economy, the 22-member environmental coalition batted four-for-four with their priority measures.

“Big session, big wins,” Washington Environmental Council spokesman Tom Geiger summarized.

The four priority measures included bills to ban the toxic flame retardant PBDE, double state funding for parks and open space — including five projects in Thurston County — advance Puget Sound cleanup and keep the state moving toward a clean energy future.

“The success of all four coalition priorities speaks volumes about the priorities in Olympia,” said Clifford Traisman, state lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.

“We continue to show how improved protections for the environment go hand in hand with the economy.”

Environmentalists lined up with Gov. Chris Gregoire’s request to boost Puget Sound cleanup and protection funding by $220 million and create a new agency — the Puget Sound Partnership — to govern the goal of a cleaned up, healthy Puget Sound by 2020.

“This is a huge win and red-letter day for Puget Sound,” said Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound.

However, the new agency, which includes a seven-member leadership council appointed by the governor and an independent science panel appointed by the council, still doesn’t have the clear authority to enforce a Puget Sound cleanup plan, something environmentalists went into the 2007 session seeking.

“It’s a watered-down version of what we were after,” said Tom Putnam, a board member of the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. “As far as governance, we’re about back where we were in the 1980s with the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority.”

One important, new tool the Puget Sound Leadership Council has is the ability to recommend withholding of state grants and loans to local governments and citizen groups that don’t comply with Puget Sound cleanup plan.

$100 million

The 2007-09 state budget also includes $100 million for the Wildlife and Recreation Program to fund purchase of parks space, fish and wildlife habitat, trails and farmland conservation easements.
Typically, funding for the program is about $50 million every two years.

A coalition broader than the environmental community — it included The Boeing Co. and the Washington Realtors — lobbied for the doubling of money for the program.

Five projects in Thurston County will receive more than $7.5 million from the pot of money to expand the Bald Hill and Woodard Bay Natural Resource Conservation areas, expand Millersylvania State Park, make improvements to the McLane Creek Nature Trail and help pay for Olympia’s West Bay Park.

The environmentalist bill promoting clean fuels for vehicles to reduce air pollution and dependence on fossil fuels passed the House and Senate in a slightly different form than when it was introduced.

Lawmakers stripped from the bill money to retrofit school buses to burn cleaner diesel fuels, but set a more ambitious goal for the state and local government vehicle fleets to use 100 percent biofuels by 2015. The original goal of the environmental community was a 25 percent reduction in petroleum use in the state’s vehicle fleet by 2020.

“This was a case where the wins in the bill amendments outweighed the losses,” Geiger said.
After rejecting a similar bill in 2006, the Legislature made Washington the first state to phase in a ban on toxic flame retardants in consumer products such as computers. Gregoire signed the bill into law last week.

“This is a major victory for the health of our children and Puget Sound, and will likely lead to similar laws in other states,” said Gregg Small of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

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