The state agency charged with restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020 is keeping its head down this legislative session.
The Puget Sound Partnership is putting its political muscle behind just two bills, neither of which proposes strong proactive action on major problems facing the Sound.
David Dicks, the Partnership’s executive director, laid out the agency’s strategy for the session to a board of the agency’s top advisers last week in Olympia.
With legislators desperate to cut programs and raise revenue, Dicks said, major regulatory bills dealing with stormwater and protection of shoreline habitat are “not ready for prime time.”
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“I wish the world wasn’t this way, but we are in a very tough time here,” Dicks said.
Legislators are in no mood for new environmental legislation, Dicks said.
“Basically, we have, like, four or five people down here that care about this stuff,” he said.
The two bills the partnership is vigorously backing, Dicks said, are to limit the use of copper in vehicle brake pads and to coordinate plans for the use of ocean waters.
A stormwater bill introduced last year – House Bill 1614, which would have put the burden of stormwater remediation with fees on businesses – has been jettisoned, Dicks said.
“It is not the preferred alternative at the moment,” he said.
HB 1614 made it through the House last year but never made it to the Senate. Gov. Chris Gregoire did not support the approach.
Drafts of legislation to place a moratorium on new bulkheads and structures built over the water in certain sensitive shoreline habitat areas also will not be pursued this time around, Dicks said.
“We basically came to the conclusion that this is not doable in this session,” he said.
News of the partnership’s low-key approach angered some members of the partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board.
The group is made up of about two dozen of the agency’s advisers representing state and federal agencies, business interests, tribes and environmental groups.
“It’s always the same story: ‘It’s not the right time,’ ” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Indian tribe. “We need to stop the bleeding now. There is absolutely no reason we should not be doing something right now.”
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the environmental group People for Puget Sound, also expressed frustration.
“What’s the partnership’s proactive strategy?” she demanded.
Dicks asked for patience.
“If we put these things out there now, we’d risk getting killed and maybe hurting ourselves in the long haul,” he said.
The legislation intended to limit the use of copper in vehicle brake pads – 6557 in the Senate and 3018 in the House – was requested jointly by the partnership and the state Department of Ecology.
Even if passed, the bill would not take effect until 2015 for used cars and 2020 for new cars.
The ocean-planning legislation – 6350 in the Senate and 3078 in the House – is intended to coordinate uses of Washington’s marine waters, including the location of energy production facilities.
The partnership also will track three other bills this session, Dicks said.
One would sponsor studies into the effects of seawater desalinization. Another encourages high-density growth in cities. The third encourages safe collection and disposal of unwanted prescription medications.