Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have launched unprecedented attacks on the institutions and laws that are holding the line against environmental catastrophe.
In Washington, we are privileged to have a heritage of majestic mountains, streams and forests. We are home to Puget Sound, the Columbia and Snake rivers and other natural treasures. Many choose to locate here to enjoy our natural wealth.
However, the threats to these treasures, both natural and political, have never been greater. On the natural side, the stress of climate change is evident in reduced snow pack, increased winter rainfall and flooding, and increased stream temperatures. Combined with habitat loss and stormwater from urban growth, our salmon stocks and iconic orcas are at risk of extinction.
At the political level, President Donald Trump, joined by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, has launched unprecedented attacks on the institutions and laws that are holding the line against environmental catastrophe. The administration is systematically rolling back environmental protections through a series of presidential executive orders and proposed administrative agency actions. Trump has loudly proclaimed he wants a return to 1960s regulatory levels.
Those old enough to remember know that we shouldn’t romanticize the environmental policy of an era that saw rivers like the Cuyahoga catching fire, thousands dying of severe air pollution and broad contamination of our lands. In response to these environmental disasters, the country stood up against unchecked environmental degradation and Congress passed landmark legislation such as the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, and Superfund. Our own Washington U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson was instrumental in passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires a “hard look” at the impacts of major infrastructure projects. A return to the 1960s might have nostalgic appeal to some, but it would be a disaster for public health and the environment.
The 1970s and 1980s saw adoption of strong environmental laws at the state level as well. The Washington Shoreline Management Act was adopted due to threats to our shorelines from unrestricted development that resulted in loss of public access and salmon habitat. Citizen-sponsored ballot issues were also part of the solution, including adoption of the state’s own cleanup law, the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). The state also developed capable agencies like the Department of Ecology to administer state laws and to enforce delegated national environmental laws.
As often happens, when there is a push for deregulation at the federal level, there is an echo at the state level. Some in the business community have recently criticized our state agencies and their directors for enforcing the law and protecting our communities and natural resources. The examples that have been highlighted include massive coal and oil export terminals that would have had significant, unavoidable impacts to our climate, clean water and public health, as well as the treaty-protected fishing rights of Pacific Northwest tribal nations.
While we must always carefully weigh the short-term economic benefits of major projects along with the long-term environmental and public health impacts, sometimes the evidence is clear — what we gain in the short-term isn’t worth what we’d lose in the long-term. Without strong environmental laws that give our elected and appointed officials the responsibility and authority to mitigate impacts or to deny the worst projects, we risk returning to the mistakes of the past. We can’t afford that at either the federal or state level as we continue to grow.
With the Trump Administration’s campaign to gut environmental regulations, it’s up to our state leaders to use our environmental laws prudently and effectively to protect and preserve this state that we love.
With a federal administration hostile to addressing the climate crisis, we find it especially important that Gov. Jay Inslee has introduced carbon pricing legislation. Joining with other West Coast states and British Columbia to lead in smart, broadly supported ways to address climate pollution is timely and necessary.
Washington is a testament to the fact that a sound economy and prudent and effective environmental protections can coexist. Now is not the time to roll back the critical state tools we have. In the face of a rapidly changing climate and a president hostile to environmental protection, these state laws are critical to our state’s ability to continue to grow and prosper while ensuring our children can enjoy Washington’s wonders the same way we have.