Green Blues

By Josh Feit December 16, 2009

[Editor's Note: This was originally posted yesterday at 1 pm. However, environmental lobbyist Cliff Traisman's comments weren't added until much later in the day because our Internet went down before we had a chance to add his interview into the piece.  We wanted to present the full story again in case readers missed the addition.]

The P-I links a  December 11-13 poll today that shows Americans are more concerned (85 percent to 12 percent) with improving the economy than with reducing global warming, even as Copehagen has been front page news. (Of course, the two issues are related in that green technology is a way to retrofit the economy... Not to mention that global environmental collapse will have huge economic implications.)

As a green, I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately, particularly in light of Mike McGinn's  campaign and in light of the $2.6 billion deficit (which puts a high alert on health care and education cuts).

Some negative buzz on McGinn during his campaign was that his obsession with environmental issues was "bourgeois" (which is why Joe Mallahan played up his supposed social and economic justice cred. Mallahan was a bit like Hillary Clinton going for the Ohio vote while Barack Obama was getting the arugula vote. Arugula won it in Seattle.)

As I'm making my rounds in prep for the legislative session in Olympia and, in particular, talking to environmental groups, I'm hearing that—despite pretty much getting hosed last session— they're not going to be doing much to make up ground this year. (For example, no transit oriented development bill—one of last year's priorities that went down.)

It's a short session, they say, but more importantly: There's the budget.

So far, the left's agenda in Olympia this year seems more blue than green. When a supergroup coalition of lefties (dubbing itself Rebuilding Our Economic Future) showed up in Olympia last week to protest the budget, no environmental groups took the stage with the union members, health care advocates, education leaders, and financial aid students.

At the press conference, the group's spokesman Sandeep Kaushik kinda poetically said this:
"The budget presented by Governor Gregoire represents a veritable tsunami or heartbreak ... It puts at risk the long term economic future of our state and leaves in its wake a level of wreckage that is unprecedented and that will have devastating consequences for the elderly, the poor, the needy, our kids, the environment, and for working families across the state.”

However, that evening, when Rebuilding Our Economic Future put out its official press release, the word "environment" was struck from that quote.

Kaushik tells me that was an accident and the environmental community is part of the coalition that's working out a platform and message on the budget.

I'm sure they are. But I do wonder if the issue that seemed to be the zeitgeist during the last half of this decade has suddenly been displaced in our state.

Cliff Traisman, lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council, says environmental programs took a “disproportionate” hit in the budget last year when the Department of Natural Resources was “cut to the bone.” Green advocates will be “more vigilant” this year, he promises.

The question remains: Given the immediate human drama of health care and education cuts—how will they do that?

“Leaders [in Olympia] talk about the green energy sector,” Traisman says, referring to the focus on creating green collar jobs. “Well, that economic strategy is us.”

One of the environmental community’s top bills this session is a fee on petroleum that will raise $240 million a biennium. The money will go to storm water cleanup—a de facto jobs bill.

Raising money is on the table this session according to the governor and Democratic leadership in the house and senate. Armed with the petroleum fee—which is being sponsored by liberal state Sen. Craig Pridemore (D-49) and liberal state Rep. Tim Ormbsy (D-3)— Traisman says, “We will be a strong voice in the revenue discussion.”

The governor’s budget calls for an $81 million cut to toxic clean up funding.

Full disclosure: Kaushik co-founded PubliCola last January. He is involved in our business operations but has no editorial control.
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