Progress in Focus: Moving Toward a Healthier Environment

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Progress in Focus: Moving Toward a Healthier Environment

By Lori Pfingst, Research and Policy Director, and Kim Justice, Senior Budget Analyst - May 18, 2015

This is Part 4 in our “Progress in Focus” series of blog posts highlighting the individual sections of The Progress Index. This post is focused on the environmental part of the Healthy People and Environment section

Investments in clean air, water, and land are essential to Washingtonians’ health and quality of life, as well as to the state’s economic vitality. Over the last decade, Washington state has increasingly recognized the need to protect our people and the environment from the threats posed by pollution, toxins, and hazardous waste.

As our recently released Progress Index shows, we have made progress on important environmental priorities – such as the quality of our drinking water and the reduction in hazardous waste from manufacturers. But much work remains. On 14 out of 17 measures of environmental health, progress has stalled, gone backwards, or not advanced fast enough to mitigate worsening conditions (see “At a Glance” table for a summary; and see the full Progress Index to review all the data we use to measure progress)

(Click on image to view full graphic.)

PI Environment At a Glance cropped

This year, Washington state lawmakers have an opportunity to reverse the downward trend in environmental health by making key investments in our state parks, protecting fish and wildlife, and ensuring our air, water, and land are clean and safe. While the House invests more overall, neither their budget proposal nor the Senate’s would provide sufficient funding for protecting the environment. In fact, both budgets cut investments that ensure our environment is healthy. (The House would cut $1.9 million, and the Senate would cut $11.9 million). In addition, both budget proposals fail to factor in potential revenues from a new carbon pricing program that would significantly reduce pollution and its impact on the health and quality of life of Washingtonians.

But as of this past week, that could change.

Lawmakers held a hearing to discuss House Bill 1314, which would put a price on carbon emissions and invest in the communities hardest hit by pollution. Carbon emissions from automobiles, industry, and other sources are linked to rapid climate change, which poses a significant threat to Washington state’s economy, public health, and quality of life. Projections show that without policy changes like those that House Bill 1314 sets forth, our state will not be able to meet the emissions reductions standards it is legally required to meet by 2020. The landmark legislation would make our air and water cleaner, while raising some $1.3 billion in new revenue.

That revenue would be invested in communities hardest hit by pollution in multiple ways. For starters, it would help fund the Working Families Tax Rebate, a rebate program for hardworking Washingtonians with children. In addition, it would help fund research to identify which communities are hardest hit by pollution and set aside resources to help those communities transition to a low-carbon future. Thus, the bill would help our environment while investing in our people.

The natural beauty and biodiversity of the Pacific Northwest are some of our biggest strengths. Keeping our state’s environment healthy goes hand-in-hand with keeping our people and economy healthy. Adopting legislation that reduces pollution while also directing revenue toward hardworking Washingtonians is simply smart legislation that would be good for our state.

PI cover thumbnailTo read our additional recommendations for how to protect our environment, visit the healthy people & environment section of our Progress Index. Stay tuned for “Progress in Focus” blog posts on the other sections of our Progress Index.