Originally published Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Guest columnist

Dire economy should not betray Northwest's environmental values

Guest columnists Rodney L. Brown and Scott Wyatt caution that state lawmakers should not betray Northwest's long-standing environmental assets and values. Those values have lured and retained businesses and qualified workers.

Special to The Times

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WASHINGTON'S natural beauty is one of the foundations of our state's identity and a big part of our economy. From fishing to timber to tourism, a clean and healthy environment is essential to our prosperity. And over the years, it's also been a big part of what helps us attract and retain businesses and well-qualified workers. Industry-leading companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Costco and Starbucks have all chosen to headquarter here and they're among the drivers who will help power our recovery.

Unfortunately, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt is pushing a plan that will undermine our state's economic foundation ["Solve state budget crisis by fueling job creation, Opinion, Oct. 18].

DeBolt laid out a "job-creation platform" that puts our safeguards for clean water and air squarely in the crosshairs. Instead of identifying ways to grow our economy, he proposes undermining the environmental protections that have kept our state healthy for generations.

DeBolt first advocates repealing land-use laws that prevent sprawl and keep communities livable. Twenty years ago, Washington passed the Growth Management Act to guide growth so that we could protect working farms and forests for future generations. Although our economic situation has changed, our values have not. Growth that is far away from schools and transportation hubs increases costs by overextending pavement and sewer lines, and clogging our highways with congestion. Growth at any cost — or specifically at the cost of our public health and natural environment — provides the illusion of recovery. By supporting this act, Washingtonians refused to accept the mistaken idea that we needed to trade our natural legacy to achieve economic prosperity. The same is true today.

DeBolt also makes the seemingly innocuous suggestion that Washington count hydroelectricity as renewable energy. The trick there is that Washington laws already classify hydroelectricity as renewable energy. However, the laws don't allow utilities to count hydroelectricity toward meeting the clean-energy standard because the purpose of that law is to diversify the state's clean-energy resources. In fact, changing the law would cost jobs — all the jobs that are associated with the millions of new dollars invested in wind and solar energy projects resulting from Washington's clean-energy law. Some state utilities sell excess hydropower to California and their ratepayers benefit from lower rates because of these sales.

Moreover, at a time of slashed budgets and dwindling capacity, DeBolt wants to add a new requirement that all permits be automatically approved if environmental review takes longer than 90 days. Think of the implications: environmental permits provide specific authorization for industries to discharge pollution into our waterways such as Puget Sound, for smokestacks to emit toxic chemicals into the air and for large projects such as mines and landfills to be built. Sometimes those decisions are straightforward, but other times effective review takes more time. A 90-day time limit threatens to allow projects to move forward without proper scrutiny. That might save a few days for some applicants, but it certainly won't be good for the rest of us.

A plan that leaves our citizens breathing dirty air, drinking polluted water and driving through sprawl is not the vision we have for our future. Washingtonians don't want attacks on our environment disguised as job creation. We want real leadership toward economic recovery. And we need elected officials to focus on issues that matter to our economy and people across the state — keeping Washington a great place to live and do business, improving our infrastructure and promoting industries like clean energy that will form the foundation of our recovery.

Rodney L. Brown, left, is a partner at Cascadia Law Group and board president of Washington Environmental Council. Scott Wyatt is managing partner of NBBJ, a national architectural firm, and chairman of the Board of Trustees for The Nature Conservancy's Washington program.


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