Environmental coalition pushing an ambitious agenda

Encouraged by both a president and a new governor committed to tackling climate change through innovative clean energy programs, and the growing public support for their positions, the state environmental lobby is going on the offensive during the 2013 legislative session.

The Environmental Priorities Coalition – a group of 24 of the state’s leading organizations advocating to protect land, air and water resources – has been playing defense in recent years, fighting back anti-environmental bills.

The coalition is rallying behind three priorities this year: clean energy solutions, creating a toxic-free environment for kids and families, and securing capital budget funding to kick-start conservation programs that create jobs.

It’s an aggressive agenda from a coalition that feels justified in flexing some of its collective muscle this year.

State environmentalists learned 10 years ago that they exert more influence on lawmakers when they unite around a limited list of priorities. It’s a strategy that has proven successful, even in a state already sympathetic to protection of its natural resources.

The coalition’s program for clean energy includes supporting a climate action bill expected from the governor, improving equipment energy-efficiency standards, expanding solar power financial assistance for homeowners and closing a tax loophole benefiting oil refineries.

The coalition is revisiting the pollution and health issues surrounding flame retardants by seeking a ban on one toxic chemical and prohibiting manufacturers from using any of the 66 harmful chemicals on the state Department of Ecology’s list.

Bills in the House and Senate would create the Toxic-Free Kids and Families Act, which eliminate the Tris flame retardant used in toys and home furniture.

Finally, the coalition wants to ensure that if lawmakers tap into the apparent one-time bump in available capital dollars associated with changes to how the debt ceiling is calculated that some of those dollars go to job creating conservation projects.

They have identified projects to restore habitat and reduce toxic stormwater runoff into Puget Sound, to protect our forests from larger and more devastating wildfires, and supporting the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program process for ranking and funding projects.

Although the coalition is pressing its own agenda, it is also tracking more than 200 bills that could affect our state’s environment, for better or worse. They are paying close attention, for example, to more than 18 bills attempting to relax the requirements of Initiative 937, which mandates utilities to increase their percentage of renewable power sources, such as solar and wind.

It’s an ambitious agenda for the environmental lobby, but focused on the right targets. The public conversation on climate change and the momentum behind clean energy solutions as an economic driver appear to be on their side.

Legislators should take note and act on this short list of reasonable priorities.