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Gregoire: Q&A About the Environment

by Seattle P-I research
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 2008

bluefish: Scroll to photo for questions most pertinent to the Columbia River and salmon issues.

What do you see as the central aspects necessary for a successful restoration of Puget Sound?

We must have a long-term approach, with a sense of urgency, to clean up Puget Sound that involves everybody and I created the Puget Sound Partnership to do this and more by 2020. We have everyone at the table; businesses, waterfront communities, local state and federal governments, and citizens, taking action to protect the Sound. Cleaning up the Puget Sound is not just a matter of our legacy to future generations, but it is also an economic engine worth billions to our local and regional economy.

We are working to clean up toxic sites, remove creosote logs, replace or repair failing septic systems and cleaning up stormwater. Ports, cities and counties have been leaders in these efforts. Systematic action is being taken at ports, waterways and sensitive coastal lands to remove toxins like mercury and heavy metals from the water. We have cleaned up approximately 60 sites in the Sound and are now cleaning up hundreds more. We are also tracing pollution to its source, be it stormwater runoff or industrial areas, so we can work to prevent future damage to the environment.

The cost of Puget Sound restoration is likely to run into the billions of dollars pretty quickly. Is this something we can afford right now? Where does this fit into your priorities?

We are cleaning up Puget Sound because it is the right thing to do and Puget Sound is also an economic engine for the state.

Times are tough right now and our state is being impacted by a failing national economy, just as every state is impacted. Jumpstarting our economy is going to take a lot of hard work, and more than a little innovative thinking. We are moving forward on clean-up mostly using funds from toxics control money (funded by oil company revenues) and not money from the general treasury. We are finally getting much needed federal monies this year.

We will have to prioritize, but we must remember that Puget Sound is an economic engine for our state. All together, the Puget Sound contributes $20 billion to our state's economy. This money comes from shipping and commerce, but also tourism, recreational and commercial fishing and wildlife viewing. These activities -- and the waterfront communities they support -- depend directly on the health of the Puget Sound.

We will have to prioritize our activities in the next legislative session, but I think we should remember that environmental cleanup can also have economic benefit. There are many small things that all of us can do to help clean up the Sound.

Stormwater pollution continues to grow in volume, and scientists say it already is the largest source of most of the worst pollutants plaguing Puget Sound. The state is fighting before the Pollution Control Hearings Board against requiring the use of low-impact development to minimize stormwater pollution. Should the state mandate low-impact development?

Stormwater runoff is a serious source of pollution in the Puget Sound. Stormwater runs through yards, parking lots and industrial areas, carrying fertilizers and chemicals directly into streams, culverts and drains. Eventually, this flows into the Puget Sound where it poisons plants and animals. Stormwater which carries human and animal waste has become a major cause of so-called "dead zones," or areas where there is not enough oxygen for marine life to survive.

Low impact development consists of a variety of building and land development techniques that are designed to protect water quality and generally decrease the environmental impacts of a development.

Stormwater improvements have been one of my highest priorities. We have already invested heavily to begin managing stormwater better. We have added stormwater inspectors at the state and local level, we've allocated $26 million to local governments to identify and eliminate sources of stormwater pollution.

We are ahead of most states in implementing modern stormwater management practices, and low impact development is already happening as communities take responsibility to reduce their contribution to water quality problems.

What is your understanding about the primary cause or causes of global warming?

There is no doubt that mankind is contributing to global warming. Our planet certainly goes through natural climatic changes over long periods of time, but the strong scientific consensus is that the activities of humans are affecting these cycles.

It is time to lead before it is simply too late and I am leading on behalf of Washington state.

Do you support the Western Climate Initiative? If so, please answer the criticism that it does little about the largest source of greenhouse gases in our state -- emissions from most cars, trucks, ships and airplanes -- until 2015. If not, please explain why.

Under my leadership, Washington is leading the nation's fight against global warming through the Western Climate Initiative which now involves almost all the Canadian provinces and Western states.

Reducing vehicle emissions is a significant component of the plan. Right now, our state already offers sales tax exemptions for hybrid cars. The state vehicle fleet is the largest fleet of hybrid and fuel-flex vehicles in the nation. We are also offering people freedom and choices in their transportation by supporting mass transit.

We strengthened our auto emission standards to reduce pollution but were thwarted by the Bush Administration. Washington, along with a number of other states, has sued the federal government. I am confident that we will succeed in this lawsuit. But it is unfortunate that the federal government has caused delay.

We must continue to develop new and innovative technologies to reduce our carbon footprint offering efficient and affordable choices to meet our citizens' transportation needs. Last summer I rode in a hybrid that got 150 MPG, so who knows what will be possible in the next few years!

Hanford city site on Columbia River (by Emmet Gowin: Changing the Earth) Washington is said by many to have the potential to become an incubator for new energy technologies. What would you do as governor to promote that?

We're already an incubator for new energy technologies. Washington is now the fifth largest producer of wind power in the nation. Our state is the third largest developer of solar panels.

We have taken several steps to promote the further development of new energy technology, such as:

During my second term, we will continue to expand our leadership in the development of renewable energy with our innovative and creative capabilities. We are well positioned to lead by doing the right thing and providing a 21st century, new economy for our state.

The cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation costs more every year than the nation's entire Superfund cleanup program for other toxic sites -- and yet the process has dragged on for years. Gov. Gregoire's administration came close to suing the federal government over the issue. Deadlines of 2011 to get the waste-treatment plant started and for the single-shell tanks to be emptied of waste by 2018 have slipped to 2019 and 2040. What new steps will you take to make sure the cleanup proceeds quickly?

Hanford has been and will remain a priority of mine for as long as I'm a citizen of Washington. I negotiated the Tri-Party Agreement that has guided the clean-up for the past 20 years. We've made great progress, but there have been and continue to be significant delays.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation stores more than 60% of the nation's highly radioactive and chemically hazardous wastes. Without the timely and thorough cleanup of the Hanford site, we leave the health of the Columbia River, the economic livelihoods and health of citizens in the region, and its salmon runs, at risk.

If President Bush's proposed budget stands, only one tank at Hanford will be emptied in 2009. At that rate, it will take 140 years to empty the remaining 142 single-shell tanks and process the waste. The river doesn't have 140 years. Time is running out for the Columbia River - and for one-million people and the 42 cities and towns downstream from Hanford. Washington will not sit idly by while the United States government breaks its promises to the people of our state and region and puts our health and resources at risk.

There are three key priorities to move Hanford cleanup along:

We are at the most important phase of our negotiations with the federal government on a revised Tri-Party Agreement. We have settled on changes to the Agreement in the past, and we would prefer to do so again this time. Any settlement would need to ensure a full and timely cleanup, with a high degree of certainty for adequate federal funding. If such a settlement is not possible, a lawsuit may be our only remaining option.

Do you support increased use of nuclear power in Washington? If not, why? If so, please explain your position on what should be done with the waste.

Our state is very lucky because we have clean, low-cost hydropower to power our homes and economy. We are leading in the generation of our wind and solar power. It is critical that our state and our nation achieve energy independence, and I think all options should be on the table. We must consider the full financial and environmental hurdles of each source of energy. Nuclear energy is far more costly than our hydropower and presents a waste disposal challenge. With that in mind, I think we must have a healthy, open dialogue in our state about new technologies in nuclear power and all potential sources of energy.

Salmon scientists say enhancement of habitat in the nearshore and estuaries, as well as for spawning and rearing areas in rivers, is needed to recover salmon. What sorts of incentives for landowners would you support? What kinds of additional regulation would be fair?

Washington leads the region in responding to the salmon listings under the Endangered Species Act. These plans are now being implemented across the state. Washington's citizens have responded to this challenge by using a collaborative, bottom up approach. These watershed groups work out at the local level what types of projects, changes in regulations and incentives they need to get the work done. It takes all of us to solve big problems and by partnering with the state, local citizens can help us improve and bring back salmon runs.

But if these plans do not result in a turnaround -- if populations continue to decline -- then I am open to alternative approaches.

The winter 2007 storms in Lewis County revealed widespread building in floodplains. Last month the National Marine Fisheries Service recommended a moratorium on construction in floodplains to rescue salmon and the orcas that eat salmon. Do you support a moratorium on construction in floodplains until rules for building there can be revised? What limits should be placed on construction in floodplains?

After experiencing the floods of 2006 and 2007, I agree we need to better assess the effect of floodplain development on our flood levels in our rivers. Cities and counties lead the way when it comes to local land use and development, and the federal government, in responding to the New Orleans and Iowa floods, is also looking at flood structures, flood maps, flood insurance programs, and floodplain management policies.

These policies will help inform local and state government about what action, if any, should be taken to limit construction on flood plains. No matter what, we must make sure that construction on or near a flood plain is done in a way that will keep people safe, without unnecessary risk to property or the environment.

The federal government has suggested that communities implement a voluntary moratorium on floodplain development until more information and better criteria can be developed for floodplain protection but have appropriately left the interim decisions to the local communities.

Communities may choose to implement the voluntary moratorium. If they choose not to implement the moratorium, they should continue to require a full review of any development proposals that might affect flooding or the floodplain.

Conflicts between endangered species and humans in Washington are well-known. Do you believe endangered species need more protection, or less protection?

If a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it needs protection. In addition to legal obligations from the Endangered Species Act, we have a greater obligation to our children to provide them with a cleaner, greener future. Protecting wildlife is part of this obligation.

We can step up to the plate just like we did with salmon and develop locally supported recovery plans, as opposed to waiting for the federal government to come in and impose a top-down approach. Second, we can be more proactive to ensure that additional species don't get listed under the federal endangered species act. A good example of this is our Puget Sound clean-up effort.

The Department of Ecology recently estimated it needs about 280 employees in its Water Quality Program to oversee more than 6,500 sewage treatment plants, machine shops, construction sites and others holding permits allowing them to pollute the water bodies in Washington. Yet Ecology estimates that about 280 employees are needed to properly police polluters. Do you plan to add employees for this task? If so, how would you pay for them? If not, why not?

I think we need to properly investigate and hold polluters accountable where they are found. For the time being this will have to be done with our current resources. In response to the ailing national economy, I have frozen hiring for the state, so we are not going to hire additional state employees at this time. The hiring freeze is one of several actions I have taken to continue our record of fiscal responsibility, and we have cut our projected deficit almost in half. These are challenging times and we must work together to get through them.

That said, I consider a highly effective water pollution prevention program to be essential. I will work with the legislature to make sure we have a top quality program here in Washington.

Seattle P-I research
Gregoire: Q&A About the Environment
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 15, 2008

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