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Originally published Thursday, February 17, 2011 at 4:24 PM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Citizen lobbyists rally to protect environmental progress

Citizen lobbyists hit Olympia to rally for sustaining environmental progress in the state, and promoting realistic user fees to cover the true costs of managing state land and water resources. Environmental Lobby Day put more than 500 citizens in the halls of the state Capitol.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

OLYMPIA — Hard-pressed lawmakers need to keep two words in mind as they slog through budget autopsies and haul pop bottles to Oregon for refunds: User pays.

Tuesday was Environmental Lobby Day at the state Capitol, and citizen lobbyists bused in from all over Washington took two strong themes to their legislators: Maintain fees for their intended purposes and raise fees to match costs.

Valiant efforts to clean up Washington's waterways, protect its lakes and rivers and generally make the state a healthy place to live and work are undercut by shameless raids on funds collected to do those jobs.

The weather in Olympia was as chilly as the economic climate, but more than 500 people, snugged up in green scarfs, spread out across the Capitol campus to meet with lawmakers, attend hearings and hone their skills in advocating for the public interest.

Lobbying day relies on the organizational skills and talents of People for Puget Sound, celebrating its 20th year, but it is the credibility to attract the likes of first-timer Gay Schy, a Vashon Island resident, that empowers the event. Her concern about Puget Sound water issues brought her to Olympia to meet with lawmakers from her 34th District.

The 19th annual lobbying day was hosted by the 25 organizations of the Environmental Priorities Coalition. Each session, it selects and targets four goals. Next time you easily recycle a TV or computer, thank the coalition.

This session, in addition to realistic budgeting for the environment, the coalition seeks timely closure of the TransAlta coal-fired power plant in Centralia, reduction of phosphorus pollution from fertilizers and a fee on the wholesale value of toxic pollutants to clean up water pollution.

How difficult has it been to wrestle with the state's financial mess? In separate conversations Tuesday with Gov. Chris Gregoire and state Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, ranking minority member of the Ways and Means Committee, they each said nice things about the other. Honest.

Both repeat the same sentiments: There are no good choices, and there are no options to balance things out.

Gregoire is mindful that after a stellar record of public service — my characterization — she is participating in the dismantling of her career — her characterization. Wholesale evisceration of programs that undo years of exemplary progress as director of the state Department of Ecology, attorney general and governor.

Given the horrific budget and economic realities, environmental concerns — and opportunities — trail education and health care as priorities. The danger is compounding problems by not doing what is possible.

Citizen lobbyists were consistent and positive in asking how they could help, repeating concerns about eroding expensive progress already made. The imperative for legislators was direct: Don't slip backward.

Ideas abound. Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark, director of the Department of Natural Resources, is promoting a pass to cover access to all lands managed by DNR, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and state parks. Keep them open and scrub the toilets. The latter will close the deal for many pass buyers.

Raise fees for DNR forest practice permit applications. Have the beneficiaries of that lucrative access to state timber pay fees that reflect the cost of managing the land.

Likewise, update the fees connected with the management and oversight of the state's water resources. Making appropriate and overdue adjustments to fee schedules is in the best spirit of preparing for the future.

Lawmakers, urged on by citizens from around the state, can maintain funds for their intended use, raise fees to match costs and create fee-structures that pay for jobs that yield clean water.

Politics do not get any closer to home.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

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