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Originally published Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM

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Legislative budget battle didn’t block environmental progress

For all of the partisan political tensions and financial turmoil of the 2013 Legislature, progress was made in Olympia on environmental topics.

Times editorial columnist

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Please do not avert your eyes because you see the words Olympia or Legislature.

Yes, the double-overtime session was exhausting and exasperating, but lawmakers did talk about more than taxes and budgets. Important, if incremental, progress was made on various environmental fronts.

“The session results were mixed with some missed opportunities and important victories, especially for Puget Sound recovery and capital budget projects,” explains Darcy Nonemacher, legislative director for the Washington Environmental Council.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a piece of legislation in April that sets up a climate-change study process. An independent consultant will be retained to help draft plans to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and climate pollution.

The ideas will be reviewed by a Democrat and Republican from each chamber who will work with the governor. They will weigh the options and chart a path for the state. A plan is due by the end of the year for the 2014 Legislature.

Similar efforts stumbled in the past, so the what-comes-next part is huge. Restarting the conversation is progress. The larger context of the discussion is enormous, especially with the growing awareness of the impacts of ocean acidification.

The Legislature wimped out on easy targets, such as closing a tax loophole enjoyed by oil companies. Smarter efficiency standards for household products and ways to increase residential and small-business access to solar power all imploded.

So did no-brainer legislation to protect children and families from toxic chemicals in kid’s products and home furniture. The House adopted a strong measure, but the Senate was distracted by industry and retail voices.

In a session dominated by number crunching and fiscal anxiety, some behaviors repeated themselves. Nonemacher said dedicated funds such as the Model Toxic Control Act and the Public Works Trust Fund were again tapped to help stop the leaks in the general fund.

For all of the frustrations with targeted pieces of legislation, the capital budget process yielded what appear to be extraordinary accomplishments.

Multiple projects will invest tens of millions of dollars in clean-energy programs and fund grants for public building energy-efficiency projects. The combination of job creation now and eventual savings on heating and cooling bills was a powerful incentive.

Bits and pieces of spending for energy-efficiency retrofits in schools, weatherization programs in low-income communities and other investments added up.

Substantial commitments of money and public policy were made in Puget Sound restoration and stormwater cleanup. Communities will have an opportunity to apply for grants to help keep polluted runoff out of the Sound and waterways across Washington.

Investments were made in forest health and wildlife and recreation programs. The environmental community applauded the effort and resources being put into rigorous review of ideas to find the best plans.

Another big commitment of public funds was acquisition of 50,000 acres in the Teanaway River Valley near Cle Elum, and its role in the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Lots of players with vital stakes in conservation, water supply, working lands for forest and grazing, recreation and habitat all had a role in making a complex real-estate deal happen.

For all the frustrations of missed opportunities, there were some bright, green achievements.

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

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