Environmental groups have modest legislative agenda

Posted: Monday, January 04, 2010

SEATTLE - With the Washington Legislature facing a $2.6 billion budget deficit, environmentalists have a modest agenda for the upcoming session and hope to avoid further cutbacks they say have already devastated environmental protection in the state.

No sweeping measures have been proposed - in fact, much of the lobbying when the 60-day session starts next week will be to defend what money is still going to environmental programs and to pass measures that didn't make it through the 2009 session.

"From a bill standpoint I don't expect a lot of action except working to protect the funding," said Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, chairman of the House Ecology and Parks Committee.

The 2009 session, when lawmakers were dealing with a $9 billion revenue shortfall, wasn't kind to any state program. But advocates said environmental efforts were especially hard hit, with natural resources agencies losing 25 percent of their funding.

Natural resources, said Bill Robinson, director of state government relations for The Nature Conservancy, "took the largest budget cut of any of the state functions" - proportionately, almost two and a half times more than any other area of the budget.

He said many programs that provide the basic science and technology for such things as environmental restoration and wildlife protection were "cut back drastically to the point they're almost nonfunctional."

"We did not have a good session last year," said Clifford Traisman, who lobbies for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a group of 25 environmental organizations. "We brought forth an agenda this year that we think is consistent with the economic environment we're confronted with."

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