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Originally published March 24, 2010 at 3:30 PM | Page modified March 25, 2010 at 9:11 AM

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Guest columnist

Washington lawmakers environmental work is not complete

The Washington Legislature must approve the Clean Water Act of 2010 if they are serious about Puget Sound cleanup, writes guest columnist Kurt Fritts.

Special to The Times

A March 23 Seattle Times editorial announced state lawmakers have made "green progress" in Olympia this session. While there is no question the Legislature has stepped up on a number of issues, notably the passage of the Safe Baby Bottle Act of 2010, the jury on environmental progress for this year is still very much out. Two of the three of the environmental community's identified top priorities are still up in the air during the special session.

In particular, one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation of the past two decades, the Clean Water Act of 2010, hangs in the balance.

A top priority for more than 25 statewide environmental organizations, labor and local governments, the Clean Water Act of 2010 would address the biggest water-pollution problem in the state: toxic stormwater runoff. Each year, millions of gallons of toxic stormwater run into our lakes, rivers and Puget Sound. Some have described it as an Exxon Valdez oil spill in slow motion. While most of the pollution comes directly from petroleum products, fertilizers and other toxic chemicals are also to blame.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature have set a goal of cleaning up Puget Sound by the year 2020. This is simply not possible without real and immediate action on stormwater. We know what we need to do to counteract the toxic flow of stormwater — infrastructure projects like retrofitting urban streets, building better storm drains and digging storm ponds. Right now, the cost of these cleanup projects falls completely on local taxpayers. Cities and counties spend more than $250 million a year to control stormwater pollution, and the costs are rising.

The Clean Water Act of 2010 (HB 3181/ SB 6851) is a balanced approach to this problem because it asks polluters to pay part of the costs. With a modest increase of the existing, voter-approved Hazardous Substance Tax, local governments will be able to complete required infrastructure projects, put people back to work and avoid higher property taxes.

In a year of difficult choices about the budget, state lawmakers have an opportunity to make real progress on clean water and new jobs during the special legislative session. To get there will require some tough votes. Lawmakers should understand the public overwhelmingly supports clean water and expect them to show leadership on this issue.

Kurt Fritts is executive director of Washington Conservation Voters. As the bipartisan "political voice of the environment," WCV works to elect and support pro-conservation candidates across the state.

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