Senate Shakeup Leaves Enviros on the Defensive
Senate shakeup leaves environmental advocates on the defensive.
When the state Environmental Priorities Coalition (an umbrella organization for the state's environmental groups) rolled out its annual list of legislative priorities for members of the press this afternoon, what was most notable wasn't so much the list of priorities themselves (which I'll get to in a minute) as the number of fires the group is trying to put out. With the state senate in the hands of the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus, environmental advocates have been put on the defensive.
On a conference call this morning, Washington Environmental Coalition lobbyist Cliff Traisman outlined several bills (and still-nascent proposals) the EPC is trying to kill, including:
• Efforts to redirect funds from the Model Toxics Control Act, or MTCA, into the state's general fund or to private companies. Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale) has introduced a bill that would allow private companies that are liable to pay for toxic cleanup to access MTCA funds, which currently pay to clean up public toxic waste sites.
"Currently, demand [for cleanup on publicly owned sites] exceeds funding," WEC's Darcy Nonemacher said. "When you open the door to private companies that are liable to do cleanup on their own land, that is obviously a conceren to us,"
• Efforts to amend I-937, the 2006 initiative that requires utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity with renewable sources. One such bill, sponsored by Sen. Jerome Delvin (R-8, Richland), would count hydroelectric power as a "renewable" source in certain cases, as opposed to wind and solar. (Hydro already accounts for about 87 percent of Washington state's electric power).This is an annual fight. An added dimension this year? Gov. Jay Inlsee. Inslee was a huge proponents t of the I-937 and has previously frowned on GOP attempts to water it down.
• And a proposal in the house that would prohibit state agencies from implementing a cap and trade system, regulating fuel efficiency, or addressing greenhouse gas emissions in any way without approval from the legislature.
"It’s a challenge. There are more Draconian rollback bills being heard in the senate than previously, which means that the community unfortunately is spending more of its time and resources playing defense, as opposed to focusing on a proactive agenda to protect our air, land, and communities," Traisman said glumly.
• First, the EPC will continue to push for a bill banning cancerous chemicals in toys and upholstery—this time, including a provision prohibiting companies from replacing banned chemicals with other chemicals on a state list of Chemicals of Concern for Children, to prevent what Traisman called "chemical Whac-A-Mole."
Last year, chemical companies—organized as "Citizens for Fire Safety"—mobilized to kill a similar bill. The enviros are more optimistic this time, they say, because people are more aware of the danger of toxic chemicals in toys and furniture, thanks in part to exposés like a massive six-part series that ran in the Chicago Tribune last year.
"We know that consumers and parents are much more aware this year and are demanding more action on these bills," Washington Toxics Coalition spokeswoman Ivy Sager-Rosenthal said. ""We fully believe that from that perspective, the playing field has been changed."
• Second, of course, is green job creation. Specifically, they're looking for money (a heavy lift this year) for habitat restoration, stormwater cleanup, and the state's Wildlife and Recreation Program.
• Finally, the group is pushing to fast-track (or at least track) bills that would help the state meet its climate goals—including some sort of carbon-pricing scheme; a bill improving efficiency standards in small consumer appliances (like iPhones and computers), and the elimination of a $63 million biennial tax exemption that benefits oil refineries.
Inslee, of course, made green jobs—and the climate more generally—a focus of his campaign. I asked Traisman if the environmental lobby had confabbed with the governor to get their priorities in line. He responded, "We met with him last week and ... he was generally very supportive of each element of those three priorities that we just laid out.
"He was also very encouraged by the fact that we are sitting down with stakeholders to try to figure out elements of what could be a potential transportation funding package, although that may be a long shot." As for that final sentiment: PubliCola agrees.