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Two wins for Washington's waters

The 2011 Legislative Session brought two significant wins for clean water. First, the Clean Fertilizers, Healthier Lakes and Rivers Environmental Priority became law. This legislation will protect waterways across Washington from phosphorus pollution that causes algae blooms which kill fish by depriving them of oxygen.

Then WEC successfully worked to pass a first in the nation law which bans coal tar sealants for roadways. This toxic goo is responsible for significant water pollution and contamination in lakes and waterways across the country. By prohibiting its sale, the law protects Washingtonians and the natural world from a harmful carcinogen. The drive for this law began with years of studies from the U.S. Geological Survey and a recent news story from longtime environmental reporter Robert McClure that linked coal tar sealants to health problems. WEC worked with Rep. David Frockt to champion a bill that, while opposed by the coal tar industry, garnered widespread support. The bill passed ultimately passed the legislature on a strong bipartisan vote.

However, while they took strong action on individual pollutants, the legislature did not holistically address the broader problem: toxic stormwater runoff. For the third year in a row, the Environmental Priorities Coalition selected securing a sustained funding source for clean water projects as a top goal. Out of state oil companies worked hard to protect the status quo — which means they avoid paying their fair share and millions of pounds of toxic pollution run into our waterways. And while the legislature made a significant one time allocation towards clean water projects, much more is needed.

When WEC began working on this issue, most legislators weren’t aware that toxic stormwater runoff was a problem. Now that dynamic has changed — the question isn’t if we need to address it, but how and when. And public opinion is squarely behind proactive solutions. The Seattle Times editorialized in favor of the bill and near-term action, “Ignoring or dodging the problem [toxic runoff] will only make it more expensive and difficult to confront later.” Unfortunately the legislature failed to act on a bill which would address this problem, while creating thousands of new jobs.

Looking to the future, WEC and our partners will be working to continue to build our coalition of clean water allies. And we will continue to advocate for sustained funding for clean water projects. We will also continue to work to ensure that our communities evolve in a way that doesn’t make the problem worse.

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