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Legislature Delivers Mixed Results for Environment

In a challenging year, collaboration results in significant accomplishments, but lawmakers miss opportunities to create good jobs and hold polluters accountable for paying their fair share.

May 27, 2011

OLYMPIA, WA – Today, the Environmental Priorities Coalition announced the outcome of its 2011 legislative priorities. 

A collaborative and proactive approach resulted in two significant accomplishments that will support economic recovery and protect the environment.  Unfortunately, lawmakers missed opportunities to create jobs, clean up our water, and protect our quality of life by holding polluters and industries that benefit from using our natural resources accountable for paying their fair share to protect the environment.
 
The Environmental Priorities Coalition selected four priorities for the 2011 legislative session:

  • A Coal-Free Future for Washington
  • Clean Fertilizers, Healthier Lakes and Rivers
  • The 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act
  • Budget Solutions for Our Environment

Together, they aimed to deliver healthy communities and create thousands of good-paying jobs.

The Coal-Free Future for Washington law will responsibly transition Washington’s only coal-fired power plant off of coal, while creating a model of how investing in the transition to a clean-energy future can create jobs and a healthy economy.

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the bill into law on April 29, 2011.  Specifically, the bill calls for the plant to end half of its coal-burning in 2020 and the rest by 2025, and to significantly reduce haze pollution by 2013.  As part of the agreement, the TransAlta Corp. will provide $30 million for community economic development and energy efficiency jobs and another $25 million for clean energy technology development.

“This is a major win for our health, the environment, our economy, plant workers, and the Lewis County community,” said Coal-Free Future for Washington Campaign Director Doug Howell of the Sierra Club.  “It provides a powerful model of what works: environmentalists, labor unions, health experts, faith leaders, the local community, the corporation, the governor, and legislators working together to drastically reduce coal pollution.  It shows we can transition off dirty fossil fuels and build a strong economic future for local communities as we continue to move towards a coal-free Northwest.”

Washington Environmental Council Executive Director Joan Crooks hailed the bill’s passage as, “a victory for all of Washington – one the Environmental Priorities Coalition worked hard to achieve.  We will continue working to ensure that the agreement is implemented in the right way, the way that safeguards the economic and environmental future of our state.”

The Clean Fertilizers, Healthier Lakes and Rivers law will manage the sale of phosphorus in lawn fertilizers and provide a commonsense and cost-effective approach to keeping our lakes and rivers clean.  Gov. Gregoire signed the bill into law on April 14, 2011.

“This law will provide a commonsense and cost effective approach to fulfilling our responsibility to keep our lakes and rivers clean and healthy for ourselves and our children,” said Mike Petersen, Executive Director of the Lands Council.  “Managing the sale of phosphorus lawn fertilizers will help clean up lakes and rivers across Washington while saving our businesses and local governments money; it’s a win-win for our economy and the environment.”

For the third year in a row, the legislature failed to act on an opportunity to create jobs, clean up our water, and protect our quality of life.  The 2011 Clean Water Jobs Act would have cleaned up polluted waterways across the state like Puget Sound and the Spokane River by addressing Washington’s number one water pollution problem, toxic stormwater runoff.
 
“By failing to pass the Clean Water Jobs Act, the legislature missed a huge opportunity to create thousands of good-paying local jobs by directly funding local projects to clean up toxic runoff before it enters our water,” said Brendon Cechovic, Executive Director of Washington Conservation Voters.  “Each year we delay in implementing a comprehensive solution, it puts Washington State further behind and makes our work in the long-term more costly.”
 
“We recognize the legislature for providing $30 million of helpful stop-gap revenue for clean water projects in the capital budget,” said Dave Peeler, Director of Programs for People for Puget Sound.  “But to fully address our state’s number one water pollution problem, we must have a significant and sustained funding source.”

This year, the legislature faced tremendously challenging budget choices.  Due to the recession, things we all care about like education, health care, and core environmental protections were not spared in the final budget passed by the legislature.  
 
Having already been cut over the past few years to the point where they’re barely able to perform their core functions, critical environmental protections that ensure we have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and a healthy future for our children took significant further hits in the operating budget.
 
“Environmental protections have been cut to the bone and this makes it very tough for the state to ensure we have clean air and clean water for our families and our communities,” said Mo McBroom, Policy Director for Washington Environmental Council.  “The legislature worked very hard to limit the impact of budget choices on the environment, but unavoidable cuts put our public health, economic future, and quality of life here in Washington at risk.” 

Despite the budget crunch, the legislature also failed to enact proactive solutions which would have required industries that benefit from our natural resources to pay their fair share for the services they receive.  A broad consensus emerged in support of making environmental programs more self-sufficient while taking some of the burden off taxpayers, but industry refused to pay increased fees without an accompanying weakening of protections for our land and water.  
 
“Especially during these tough economic times, it’s disappointing that the legislature failed to advance a fair and equitable budget solution,” added Mo McBroom, Policy Director for Washington Environmental Council.

“Fortunately, the legislature provided critical funding in the capital budget for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which creates state and local parks and trails and protects habitat for fish and wildlife, along with important funding for cleaning up Puget Sound and toxic waste sites across the state,” said Bill Robinson, Government Affairs Director with The Nature Conservancy.

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