Environmentalists See Energy,
by Rachel La Corte, Associated Press
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state's environmental community has learned an important lesson about dealing with the Legislature: Don't expect everything all at once, and make sure whatever you push for doesn't pit the environment against the economy.
That formula ensured the greenies got almost everything they wanted last legislative session - including strict car emissions - and it already has them working closely with Gov. Christine Gregoire on priorities they are set to tackle in the 2006 session.
"The environmental community is being more diligent in bringing win-win issues to the Legislature that not only help protect our air, land and water but also help our business friendly-manner," said Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council. "That combination has afforded us the opportunity to be taken more seriously."
Environmentalists had their best session in years when lawmakers this year adopted a version of California's auto emission standards and imposed energy-efficient "green" construction standards on public buildings such as schools and college buildings. The Legislature also passed bills earmarking money for local clean-water projects, including a grant and loan program to help homeowners fix failing septic systems that are blamed for many of the state's water pollution problems, especially in Hood Canal.
In turn, the environmentalists teamed up with business and labor in fighting an initiative that would have overturned an increase in the gas tax to pay for road and bridge projects, including Seattle's quake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct.
The transportation package also had projects that environmentalists didn't want to lose - expanded HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes and the potential for HOT lanes, which allow buses, car pools and van pools in for free, while charging solo drivers a toll. They also lauded the inclusion of wildlife crossings along a 15-mile stretch of Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass that will allow wildlife to safely get to the other side of the highway.
But in 2006, the hot-button issue for them - and for Democrats and Republicans alike - is energy independence.
Demand for biodiesel and ethanol has grown with the rising cost of gasoline and other petroleum fuels. Biodiesel is a vegetable oil-based fuel that can be burned in place of regular diesel or mixed in varying blends; ethanol can be distilled from corn and grain and mixed with gasoline.
Gregoire has already has proposed greater investments by the state in the biofuel industry, including $17.5 million in low-interest loans for a crusher to turn canola to oil and refineries to convert that oil to biodiesel.
In addition, Gregoire has preposed requirng that diesel fuels sold in Washington state contain a minimum amount of biodiesel - a step that would create a market for the products produced by the state's own farmers and refineries.
"It will be the biggest issue that the Legislature will be focusing on," Traisman said.
And Gregoire recently earmarked $42 million in her supplemental budget to restore and protect Puget Sound, another issue deemed vital by environmentalists. She named a panel of environmental, tribal and political leaders to research cleanup efforts across the country and make recommendations.
Gregoire wants to clean up toxic sites, prevent oil spills and continuing toxic contamination, and restore nearshore, estuary and salmon habitats.
"It's a huge increase in commitment over what has been done in past supplemental budgets," said Naki Stevens, director of programs for People for Puget Sound.
Stevens said the health of the sound isn't just a quality of life issue, but an economic one as well.
"The sound drives the economy and generates thousands and thousands of jobs in all kinds of industries from shellfishing to tourism," she said. "Some of the business folks and Republicans are understanding that it's a lot more cost-effective to try and get a handle on this problem now before it truly is out of our reach."
Sen. Bill Finkbeiner, R-Kirkland, said that while previously some lawmakers would have a knee-jerk reaction against environmentalists' suggestions, they have been more open recently.
"Their agenda has gotten a little smaller and it's moved toward the middle," he said. "Republicans care about the environment too. We realize there's a cost benefit to some of these things."
Traisman said the other priorities environmentalists are seeking next session include an electronic waste measure that would create a recycling program for unused computers, cell phones, televisions and other electronic devices, and a ban on toxic flame retardants, a measure they failed to get passed last session.
"The environmental community has historically appeared satisfied on walking away from the table if they couldn't get the whole pie as opposed to taking a piece or two. That in itself for some appeared to be a strategy," Traisman said. "That's no longer the case now. We're willing to take whatever pieces we can get, because we can always come back for more later."
Priorities for a Healthy Washington: www.environmentalpriorities.org
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