Tag Archives: Politics

Environmental efforts, including Puget Sound, hanging in the balance

I must admit that I have an uneasy curiosity to see how Congress will manage programs that protect human health and the environment now that Republican legislators are in control of both the House and Senate with no concerns about a budget veto.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia

Most environmental laws and programs are the result of hard-fought compromise between Democrats and Republicans who somehow agreed on ideas to make the world a safer place for people and wildlife. Do Republican members of Congress really want to back away from those advances? Do they want to explain to their constituents why clean air, clean water and safe food are not as important as they once were?

I was fascinated to read that Republican senators and representatives in the Great Lakes states could be a key to saving federal funding for Chesapeake Bay — and, by the same token, Puget Sound, the Gulf of Mexico and other major restoration projects.

Continue reading

Congress throwing away the keys to problem-solving

I have been waiting for a prominent person to step forward and compare the politics surrounding climate change to what Congress just went through with the government shutdown and debt limit. Just in time, out of the woodwork, comes former Vice President Al Gore with his droll approach to the subject.

“Congress is pathetic right now, Gore said during an interview on “Take Part Live.” He continued:

“There are some awful good people in Congress trapped in a bad system. The truth is our democracy has been hacked; big money now calls the shots. That may sound like a radical statement, but less and less to people who have been paying attention to what’s been going on there.

Continue reading

Habitat-funding formula is sacred among supporters

Like a dark cloud, a fear of politics hangs over a program that allocates state money for projects that protect fish and wildlife habitat, build parks and trails and preserve farmland. Check out my story in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun, which relates methods of funding to a Bainbridge Island trails project.

A bit of history is needed to understand the controversy. In 1989, two prominent politicians, Republican Dan Evans and Democrat Mike Lowry, joined forces to create the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. The idea was to attract both government and private money to the best projects of their kind in the state.

The following year, the Legislature created a funding structure called the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The strength of the program, according to many supporters, is the enduring formula for allocating state dollars, first by category (PDF 12 kb), then by project through detailed evaluation criteria.

Because of the established criteria, the Legislature has avoided fights over whether to fund particular projects. Instead, the Legislature sets the statewide budget for the program, and expert committees score the projects based on established criteria.

On the 20th anniversary of the program in 2009, an editorial in the Seattle Times noted that some people doubted that the political marriage of this “odd couple” — Evans and Lowry — would last for the long run, but so far it has:

Continue reading

Norm Dicks is dealt a new hand to play

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks summed up his place in the next Congress by quoting former Seahawks coach Chuck Knox:

“You have to play the hand you are dealt.”

Norm Dicks

Norm Dicks, the Belfair Democrat, is well known for bringing home federal dollars to restore streams and estuaries throughout Puget Sound. Everywhere he goes, he’s patted on the back for the many restoration projects that seem to be improving conditions for fish and wildlife. After last week’s election, everyone from shellfish growers to Gov. Chris Gregoire must be wondering what will happen next to Puget Sound funding.

Norm told me after the election that he has always worked well with Republicans on the Interior and Defense appropriations subcommittees, the two bodies where he has recently served as chairman. (See my story in Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.) Before 2006, as ranking minority member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he helped launch an initiative to restore facilities in rundown national parks, an effort that continues to today.

Maybe Norm’s 34 years in the House gives him a special perspective, but he seems undaunted by House Republicans, who appear to be in no mood for major spending on programs like the national parks. To me, it looks like we’re going to have gridlock between the House, controlled by Republicans, and the Senate, controlled by Democrats.

Dicks wishes more voters nationwide would have recognized how many jobs were created by the federal stimulus package. He doesn’t think cutting taxes, as Republicans propose, will create many new jobs. And reducing the federal budget will cause layoffs — at least in government — with ripple effects in the economy.

On “60 Minutes” (9:42 into Part 1), correspondent Steve Kroft asked President Obama, “What can you do to create jobs that hasn’t already been done?”

Obama’s answer was not surprising:
Continue reading

Bill Ruckelshaus ‘retires’ from PS Partnership

When I returned to work today after two weeks of vacation, I learned that Bill Ruckelshaus was “retiring” as chairman of the Leadership Council — the governing board for the Puget Sound Partnership.

It has always seemed to me that Ruckelshaus was the steady hand on the wheel as the Puget Sound Partnership moved through stormy seas. Certainly, Ruckelshaus deserves to retire after a long career of public service and business enterprise.

But wait. Bill does not retire the way you or I might. In a conversation this afternoon, I learned that he is preparing to lend a hand to the Puget Sound Foundation — the educational and private-fund-raising arm of the Puget Sound Partnership.

Oh, I said to him, with government funding drying up, you think you can go out and find private money to save Puget Sound?

He laughed. “It might be awkward to raise money as the chairman of a state agency,” he noted. The first step, he said, is to establish goals for how donations might be spent. Private donors generally want firm guidelines, he said.
Continue reading

Norm Dicks and musings about political power

When I use the term “political power,” does it make you think of something good, bad or indifferent?

Like it or not, political power is what gets things done in our city councils, Legislature and Congress. Voting by qualified citizens is certainly one form of political power.

Whether Congress spends our money to fight wars or to restore the environment is a result of political power. Some would say we have no choice but to fight wars at key times in history. Others would argue that we have no choice but to save the Earth. But, of course, there are choices in how Congress spends our money.

I got to thinking about this after I wrote a story for today’s Kitsap Sun about U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks and his change in chairmanships in the House Appropriations Committee. Dicks will soon move from a position where he has a major say about environmental spending to a position where he will have a major say about Defense spending.

His predecessor on the Defense Appropriations Committee, Rep. John Murtha, held a reputation for wielding political power to bring federal projects to his home state of Pennsylvania.

Dicks enjoys a favorable reputation among environmentalists nationwide for his work on restoring national forests and national parks as well as his support for regulations to protect the environment. But Dicks is celebrated in his home state of Washington for his intense focus on our local forests and waterways.

That makes this Bremerton native a target for those who think our money is better spent on other things or not at all. I wonder how that perception will change when he becomes more focused on Defense issues, which attracts a more conservative constituency. That’s not to say that Dicks has not already wielded political power on defense issues, given the large number of military bases and defense-oriented companies in Washington.

For some reason, this very notion of political power seems a little distasteful, but it is how government gets things done — or not done. It is political power, after all, that the brings Republicans together in a solid block —without a single vote out of line — to block some of President Obama’s prize initiatives.

What actions would you like your government to take? As they say, political power is a little like sausage. We may not want to see the process that gets it done, but we can enjoy the result nonetheless.