The Environment: A Legacy Each of Us Will Leave for Generations to Come
Since January 2014, Whatcom Watch has been rerunning articles from issues printed 20 years ago. The below article appeared in the August/September 1999 issue of Whatcom Watch.
by Kelli Linville
First off, let me say that I firmly believe we must reject any notion that we face an “either-or” choice.
No environmental debate should be framed in this kind of language: “Either we let pollution run rampant in the name of growth and development, or we shut everything down in the name of preservation.” To my way of thinking, we can achieve a healthy environment, and maintain quality jobs and responsible businesses. We should accept nothing less than a healthy environment, and we should demand good-paying jobs so that citizens can take care of themselves and their families.
Probably the best example of balancing our responsibility for a healthy environment (and continuing consumer protection) is found in the Safe Foods Initiative that I sponsored. The initiative was backed by environmental, industry, and academic groups.
With this new policy, we assure the continued safety of Washington’s farm products while boosting our economy at the same time. The Safe Foods Initiative bolsters research and field work investigating chemical and non-chemical pest-control farming, as well as improved land-management techniques. We funded the Pesticide Registration Commission, the first in the nation, to do this important work.
Also on a positive note, our state has adopted what I’m convinced is a balanced, forward-thinking approach to salmon recovery. The forest-products industry and smaller, private timberland owners joined representatives from local, state and federal governments and the tribes in building the recovery plan.
Several essential elements are keyed in this new strategy:
• Help for small timberland owners in keeping their property forested, rather than turning it over to development, as a way to maintain habitat.
• Reasonable buffers along streamsides and limited timber harvest along steep slopes to protect fish streams.
• Better maintenance of logging roads to curtail devastating runoff.
• Purchase of riparian easements from small landowners to improve fish migration.
We also approved funds and policies to focus on removing barriers to fish passage, restoring habitat, encouraging local and volunteer fish-recovery activities, and buying back commercial-fishing licenses. Everyone has a stake in this recovery work, and no one should take an unequal share of the burden.
Lake Whatcom Watershed
Of specific local note is another bill approved this past session to set up a pilot, watershed-management project on Lake Whatcom. The Department of Natural Resources will put together an advisory committee including local citizens to find ways for keeping and improving water-quality standards in our local watershed. Timber sales will be deferred until the project is finished (no later than June 30 ), and differences of policy opinion will be resolved through fair and objective mediation.
We also built on last year’s fertilizer legislation. Important new policies were approved this year to require complete product information explaining exactly what’s in the fertilizer. A new policy also sets up an immediate stop-sale of nonregistered products or products that don’t meet our state standards. Consumers certainly have a right to know the metal content, for example, in the fertilizer they’re using. The content information will now be based on the testing of each individual product so that consumers will know exactly what they’re getting.
During the special session, I co-sponsored a measure to bolster our state’s oil-spill-response account to ensure that we aren’t caught off guard whenever such an outrageous environmental tragedy strikes. As with several other state-policy areas, we do have more work to do on this subject. Coordinated by the Department of Ecology, a work group is looking at other serious issues involved in the risk of an oil spill, and management of it if a spill does happen. We’ve got to create a comprehensive plan to cover all risks and all vessels.
Further, we enacted legislation that will go a long way toward encouraging more car pools and more use of public transportation. This new law extends and strengthens our state’s tax credit for commute-trip-reduction programs. We need to do everything we can to combat air pollution, and this program is a great item in our tool kit.
Bellingham Bay Cleanup
Another bill I sponsored sought to tighten up the Bellingham Bay cleanup project. The bill would set up a strict standard for disposal of contaminated sediments, such as the sediments that will be removed from our bay, based on our commitment to environmental protection. We must establish a hard-and-fast policy dictating the criteria for disposing of such materials on state-owned land. The legislation also sought a very specific dispute-resolution mechanism so this vital process isn’t stymied when conflicts need to be resolved.
Although the governor vetoed the cleanup legislation, his veto message emphasizes the valid intent in the proposal and the valid concern with cleanup management. He said that the Department of Natural Resources must work with other local and state agencies to resolve differences of opinion. If cooperation doesn’t happen, the governor said he will sign a similar bill next session.
We’ve been working on another key water-quality proposal for most of the last year. Many citizens have been asked what they think we should do to halt existing pollution and prevent future problems. I sponsored legislation that reflects recommendations reached in the public-hearing process.
If Washington doesn’t come up with a plan to correct water-pollution problems, to be sure, the federal government will step in and make the decisions for us. But I want to stress that this proposal doesn’t negate the federal Environmental Protection Agency settlement involving projects in the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) process. In fact, the measure fits nicely with implementation of the TMDL settlement. We definitely believe in complying with the settlement.
Water Quality Laws
Every two years, according to the Total Maximum Daily Load terms of the federal Clean Water Act, a list is compiled to cite waters that don’t meet quality standards. The process requires a study that spells out exactly how much pollution is allowed: pollution from both the point sources (direct causes of water pollution) and the non-point sources (indirect causes).
One of the big themes of my plan is that we need to provide more certainty in our state’s water-quality laws. Individuals, businesses, and local governments should feel confident in the continuity of our water policies, and also that we achieve cleanup results, not just planning. I will certainly keep working in this direction in future legislative sessions.
The tragic Olympic Pipe Line explosion in June  emphasizes the requirement for constant vigilance in making sure these and similar facilities meet nonnegotiable safety standards. We should ensure that employees are well-trained, and that the state has information on when pipelines are tested, what results are found, and what remedial actions occur. We should also review the penalties for spills, as well as the work of the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to check our state process for siting these types of facilities. We need to work with local, state and federal agencies and citizens to make sure these pipelines are safe.
I want to emphasize my appreciation for the keen interest possessed by so many Whatcom County citizens for these and other environmental concerns. I look forward to working with citizens in Whatcom County and the rest of our state to achieve a healthy environment for all of us. It’s true that we won’t always agree on the path for achieving environmental protection, but we will always agree on the goal. I do respect opinions that fall outside my own thinking, and I am always willing to listen.
Kelli Linville representated the 42nd District in the state legislature when this article was written. She is retiring this year after serving eight years as the mayor of Bellingham.