Sightline Institute

InvestigateWest co-hosts stormwater forum that shows civic discourse is still possible

InvestigateWest reached a milestone this week when we co-hosted a large public-policy forum on the State Capitol grounds in Olympia.

The subject was stormwater, the polluted rainwater runoff I’ve been writing about for perhaps a decade now, with particular emphasis on its effects on Puget Sound, where it is the largest source of toxics.  For two years running environmentalists have unsuccessfully advanced plans in Olympia to raise money to deal with the problem. More bills are pending in the current legislative session, so it seemed like a logical time to raise the issue’s profile and encourage a frank discussion.

That we got. And while we never expected to resolve the entire issue at a lunchtime forum, it did feel like progress to hear all the panelists acknowledge that stormwater is a difficult problem that somehow we are going to have to deal with collectively.

Seven legislators and several legislative aides joined environmentalists, business lobbyists and at least three journalists in the audience of 70. Overall it had the tone of a civil discussion with respect for all points of view – the kind of civic discourse often lacking in this age so seemingly dominated by vitriol. Once upon a time, news organizations did more of this kind of thing. The presidential debates of 1956 and 1960 may be the best-known examples. Journalists do still occasionally organize these events, but it seems to me that more of this sort of discussion could be helpful to citizens and policy-makers on all sides of many issues.

Co-hosting were Sightline Institute and Washington Policy Center, the two think tanks that have most carefully followed the stormwater story in Washington. I was fortunate to work with Brandon Houskeeper, a policy analyst at WPC, and Lisa Stiffler, journalism fellow at Sightline.

Byline: 

InvestigateWest co-sponsors forum on stormwater issues

Please join InvestigateWest, the  Washington Policy Center and Sightline Institute for an informative conversation about stormwater, the biggest threat to clean water in the Pacific Northwest. It's next Wednesday, March 23, from Noon to 1:15 p.m., Conference room B/C, John Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia.

According to state officials, stormwater pollution is the top threat to the health of Puget Sound. Over the last several years Washington lawmakers have considered various measures to protect Puget Sound, including proposals to increase taxes or put fees on chemicals, such as oil and grease, to pay for projects to clean up stormwater. But with local and state budgets stretched to the breaking point, what actions can be taken to deal with this problem? What can be done about polluted runoff that will help the environment, but won't hamper the economy
 

Now is the time to have this discussion. The Department of Ecology is drafting regulations to require a more widespread use of "green" stormwater solutions and the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) is receiving public comments on its draft Strategic Science Plan, which will be used by the future Legislatures.

Format:

Panel discussion/Q-and-A followed by moderator-led interaction with audience members.

Bring your questions and suggestions!

Featuring:

- William Ruckelshaus, former two-time administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and founding chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council

- Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director, Washington Department of Ecology

- Grant Nelson, Association of Washington Business, Government Relations

Panel of questioners:

- Brandon Houskeeper, Policy Analyst, Center for the Environment, Washington Policy Center, www.washingtonpolicy.org

Byline: 
Rita Hibbard's picture

Support for tax to pay for stormwater pollution appears lukewarm... so far

A proposal to increase the tax on petroleum, pesticides and other chemicals is being floated in Olympia as a way to raise as much as $250 million to clean up polluted stormwater. But so far, support the for the idea among leading lawmakers appears lukewarm at best.

rita_hibbardwebEnvironmentalists are pushing the idea, which would mostly tax oil refineries to clean up stormwater runoff, the largest source of pollution to Puget Sound and other waterways in the state. The measure would sink money into the general fund initially to help meet the state's $2.6 billion budget shortfall, with stormwater pollution getting a bigger share in future years. As key as stormwater cleanup is to the health of Puget Sound, the measure faces an uncertain future.

Sightline highlights need for continued cleanup of US's No. 1 water-pollution problem, stormwater

rm iwest mugIt was good to see former Dateline Earth denizen Lisa Stiffler out today with a new report  (PDF) on the country's No. 1 water pollution problem:  Stormwater.

As longtime Dateline Earth readers will know, Lisa and I worked together on a bunch of stories over the past decade highlighting the need to protect Puget Sound.

Marshmallows and musical chairs help teach Cap'n Trade 101

Well, this week has been a historic one on the climate change front. The Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was going to place more stringent regulations on the nation's largest carbon emitters -- which represent only 2 percent of U.S. businesses, but 70 percent of greenhouses gases -- and Senate Democrats released a draft bill that included even more zealous carbon cuts than one passed by the House earlier this year. (More in Emily Gertz's roundup.)

While most agree that curtailing greenhouse gas emissions and working to slow global warming is a hunky dory idea, especially when you've got walrus pups being trampled alive in Alaska as a result of disappearing sea ice, many still disagree over the means to that end.

[caption id="attachment_4696" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Alan Durning. Photo courtesy of Sightline.org"]Alan Durning. Photo courtesy of Sightline.org[/caption]

One of the ways politicians have proposed combating emissions is through a carbon cap and trade system. While the idea has been kicked around in Congress for a few years now, the concept is still widely debated and -- not surprisingly --  still perplexing to many.

Thanks to Sightline Institute

Today InvestigateWest Executive Director Rita Hibbard and I had the great pleasure of talking with Alan Durning, executive director of the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank aimed at creating a sustainable society in Cascadia.

As a newbie in the surprisingly complicated world of non-profits, and one who had done very little fundraising before we started InvestigateWest a few months ago, I was relieved to hear that Durning had no experience raising funds when he launched Sightline in the early 1990s. He just had a good idea. And so do we.

With Communications Director Nate Kommers, Durning gave us an overview of how he built Sightline, which originally was called Northwest Environment Watch. It's a group I've appreciated as a reporter because, while they are advocates for doing the right thing by Mother Earth, they are also driven by facts and data. It's how they look at the world. And unlike some enviros, they understand that for a policy to succeed, it has to work for people, too.

Sightline's done some groundbreaking work, particularly their Cascadia Scorecard ("measuring what matters") and in revamping the old Tidepool.org daily enviro news summary into Sightline Daily ("news that matters.") Their "Daily Score" blog is also worth checking out. (Today's offering: "Mapping 7 deadly sins, and 2 virtues.")

We talked about how Durning built the group from two people with no dough into a 15-person organization with a $1.3 million annual budget.