When Wild and Scenic Rivers legislation was defeated in Olympia in 1967, a determined group of environmental advocates saw the need for a new approach. They became WEC’s first leaders and built a broad coalition to protect our quality of life and the places Washingtonians depend upon and love. They created a powerful, unified voice, which was essential in securing the foundational laws that continue to protect Washington today.
Here are five things to know about our 50 years of advocacy…
1. People-powered since day one.
An early WEC goal was to ensure that environmental impacts would be considered in the review of proposed projects and that the public would have a voice in the process. Activists showed up in force to help pass the State Environmental Policy Act. SEPA, passed in 1971, continues to give Washingtonians a voice on projects that could have a tremendous environmental impact, such as proposed coal and oil terminals we’re fighting today. These voices have grown so loud that over 300,000 comments were submitted in opposition to just one of the proposals under consideration.
2. Collaboration is in our DNA.
WEC started as a council of community groups that each wanted to protect the place they called home. We found strength in collaboration and partnership, overcoming barriers together we couldn’t have separately. Over five decades, whether it has been working with tribes, the timber industry, and the state to better protect our forests, or working with local governments to get polluted stormwater out of Puget Sound, we know it requires many voices to secure durable wins. Looking to increase the power of the environmental community, WEC together with Washington Conservation Voters led creation of the Environmental Priorities Coalition in 2002 to adopt and advocate shared priorities in the state legislature. This network of over 20 Washington environmental groups “punches above its weight,” and has produced real gains for the environment with new laws, policies, and funding for environmental programs.
3. Innovating to solve Washington’s toughest environmental challenges.
We know that a healthy environment and a healthy economy rely upon each other, so we look for innovative solutions that avoid a false choice between the two. One of those solutions is near Mount Rainier, where WEC partnered with the Nisqually Land Trust to show that trees left standing have a real financial value. We created Washington’s first forest carbon project verified under California’s rigorous climate standards. Microsoft voluntarily purchased all of the 37,000 carbon credits from 520 acres of forest adjacent to the National Park. These trees will be left to do their job of storing carbon – in this case the equivalent to taking 441 cars off the road every year.
4. We activate Washingtonians to vote for their environmental values.
The WEC board knew that to secure good laws, we needed to have good lawmakers. So in 1981, they formed WEnPAC, the precursor to Washington Conservation Voters. Today our partnership with WCV is stronger than it’s ever been. By linking WEC’s policy chops with WCV’s electoral smarts, we are able to leverage each other’s unique strengths to ensure our decision makers are acting on the environmental values of Washingtonians. But sometimes we’ve gone straight to the people to vote for environmental progress. In 1970, we sent petitions via Greyhound bus to every corner of the state to collect signatures needed to run a successful ballot initiative: the Shoreline Management Act. Since then, the ballot – or the threat of the ballot – has helped us manage growth, clean up toxic pollution, and drive clean energy innovation in our state forward.
5. Ready to take on a new era.
Each decade has presented new challenges, and WEC has stepped up to the plate each time. Today, we face challenges ranging from climate change to a federal administration hostile to environmental protection. While threats like these are daunting, our people-power, partnerships, innovation, and voter education core to WEC prepare us to take them on. Helping form the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, WEC stands with a diverse coalition to reduce carbon pollution, strengthen our economy, and ensure all Washington families have a better future. Working with communities most impacted by climate change, we are forging a new path to ensure positive change happens where it’s needed most.
The future is ours to create together.