Thursday, October 27, 2016

Whoa! Are We Going To Save Puget Sound— Again?

Headlines screamed last week: “White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce major new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery;” “New federal task force to identify Puget Sound’s top issues;” “The Obama administration steps up to the plate on cleaning up Puget Sound.” Are we done with the Puget Sound Partnership effort and its laboriously-derived Action Agenda?

Maybe not but it was hard to see what the fit was, if there was one, between the $600 million funding promise, the new task force partnership among federal agencies and tribes and the ongoing state effort to make Puget Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable... one of these days.

There were many fine words spoken about the new initiative which puts Puget Sound on the same federal radar screen as Chesapeake Bay and the Everglades. Nice official quotes from the White House Office of Environmental Quality, Senators Murray and Cantwell, Congressmen Heck, Kilmer and Larsen and Governor Inslee. (White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce major new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery)

Did anyone involved in the current ongoing Puget Sound recovery effort have anything to say? Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council chair Martha Kongsgaard in the Associated Press story is among those hailing the initiative as a significant step forward. "What we can't do alone as a state is get these huge projects done," she said. Todd Myers with the Washington Policy Center and a member of the Partnership’s Salmon Recovery Council is quoted as cautioning against complicating things with another task force. "Rather than doing what we know needs to be done, adding another political process wastes time and resources from what we already know needs to be done," Myers said. (New federal task force to identify Puget Sound’s top issues)

Kongsgaard must understand the federal initiative is focused on big earthmoving restoration projects. Big projects like the Elwha River restoration ($351.4 million) makes the $600 commitment look like pocket change but way outside the state’s league.

Myers, bless his devil’s advocacy, takes us back to the formation of the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, the reformulation of the Puget Sound Action Team and the rebirth of Puget Sound recovery as the Partnership effort. Maybe others recall as I do the listening-post sessions marking the beginning of the Partnership effort when folks were asked what needed to be done to recover Puget Sound. Three main points kept being raised: enforce existing laws, use local resources and adequately fund recovery efforts.

Will this new federal initiative and task force with $600 million (oh, the money still has to be approved by Congress) help us enforce existing laws, use local resources, adequately fund our recovery efforts? Don’t get me wrong: I love what’s been accomplished at the Elwha and Nisqually and similar earth moving projects. Even though there isn’t any deadline like 2020 to make Puget Sound fishable, swimmable and diggable, I still feel some urgency in enforcing shoreline rules and incentivizing alternative ways to protect the nearshore, cleaning up combined sewer overflows, retrofitting the built environment to eliminate runoff, enforcing best management for septic systems and agriculture, and a whole list of other actions to keep the crap from a growing population out of Puget Sound. Maybe you still feel the urgency, too.

Will this new task force, the tribes and the federal agencies united by the memorandum of understanding (BTW, did the military bases sign on, too?) put their money and their political will toward helping the Partnership get the work done? Is it reasonable to hope so?

One final note: Suquamish Tribe chief Leonard Forsman is quoted in the Associated Press news story as saying: "In order for us to reverse the tide of damage that's been going on in Puget Sound, we're going to need everybody... And that includes not only the government agencies and the state agencies and the nonprofits, but we also need all the people who live here and are moving here."

OK. Then who’s carrying the torch to organize the people? The Puget Sound Partnership? The Department of Ecology? The Treaty Tribes? Washington Environmental Council? Don’t be shy, speak up.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Since The First Time I Voted For President

This year, I’ll vote for Hillary and, having said that, won’t tell you how to vote but will tell you about the first time I voted for president.

That was 1968, a year in which I was angry about the Vietnam War, jeered Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election, worked for Gene McCarthy in Oregon, was shocked and numbed by Bobby Kennedy’s murder in LA and Martin Luther King Jr.’s in Memphis, and watched on TV the Chicago police riot and Hubert Humphrey become the presidential nominee.

I was 21, idealistic, angry and disillusioned. I was registered to vote in Hawaii (yes, I was born there, too, not Kenya) and Hawaii’s open ballot allowed me to vote for Eldridge Cleaver, a vote in protest. Hawaii’s then-three electoral votes went to Humphrey so my vote didn’t help elect Crooked Richard.

I continued to protest the war but figured out that a vote in protest was a dead end. I stayed engaged enough at least to vote for George McGovern against Richard Nixon in 1972. I got more engaged in energy and local land use issues and vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Over the years I’ve come to understand that the truly scary thing about the Republican Party’s national strategy has been to foster fear among constituencies as a way to build its coalitions. Fear of blacks, fear of Hispanics, fear of communists, fear of terrorists, fear of unions, fear of abortions, fear of godlessness, fear of crime, fear of government... Cultivating and organizing that fearfulness has worked ever since the modern version of the Southern strategy emerged 50 years ago and spread to the nation’s suburbs and rural areas.

In the 1980 election my father, a lifelong Democrat who was retiring, voted for Ronald Reagan because he was afraid for his Social Security and believed Reagan would protect it. I told him that was a terrible reason— but he was afraid.

Fear has been used against the presidency of Barack Obama and it characterizes how the Republican presidential candidate and his party this year conducted their campaigns. It doesn’t have to be that way.  Bernie Sanders touched a wellspring of progressive sentiment without using fear. Should I be afraid of Hillary taking my gun away, socializing my medical care (oh, Medicare), and opening our borders to immigrant terrorists?-- No.

As hard a slog as the last eight years have been, the Obama presidency has remained positive and inclusive.  So has Hillary’s and Bernie’s despite a bruising primary and ugly final months before November 8. Nevertheless, some of my colleagues and readers may feel like I did in 1968 so they will cast a protest vote or not vote at all.

But like I said, I’ll vote for Hillary. Because what’s different since the first time I voted in 1968 isn’t opposing political visions (we’ve always had that); what’s different is that Donald Trump is a culmination of Republican strategy, the grotesque embodiment of resentment and fear— about gun control, socialized medicine, immigration, terrorism, globalization-- and the prospect of salvation by the singular solution of a “strong man” in power.

You will decide how you will vote. For me, no candidate is perfect in all the policies and positions he or she takes or has taken; those birds all bear careful watching. But to fan the flames of resentment and fear is a poison that blights our civil society. Compassion and inclusion moves us forward, fear and resentment do not.

The real work of governing begins the morning after the election and it will be hard work. I will vote for compassion and inclusion, moving forward together, no matter how difficult. And I hope many, many others do, too.

How about you?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Salish Sea News and Weather Begins 6th Year

Good morning, Salish Sea. Here's your news and weather.
Salish Sea News and Weather enters its sixth year of weekday compilations. It actually began in 2007 as Puget Sound News and Weather when the real People For Puget Sound was in action and became Salish Sea News and Weather after I was fired in 2011. So, has anything changed over the years?

The format has gone through some changes but the editorial focus has remained the same: to educate, inform and activate folks about environmental issues in the Salish Sea basin by compiling news from print and broadcast media. The inaugural issue of September 1, 2011 contained news clips about hot weather, stormwater pollution, an elephant seal stranding, bluebirds, a youngster fighting dolphin hunting, fake sea bass, Dupont gravel mining, China’s coal appetite, and how fish may have made the leap to colonize the land. And the marine (tug) weather forecast for the west end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca where all incoming and outgoing vessels pass in the Salish Sea.

This year’s September 1 compilation contained news clips about Canada premier Justin Trudeau, a BC fuel spill, the value of forage fish, a fine for selling endangered abalone, the value of razor clams, shellfish harvest closure, pier construction, wolf kill controversy, radio station KNKX, new Pacific marine national monument, and a job posting for a new director of the Northwest Straits Commission. And the marine (tug) weather for the west end of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Over the years, the landscape of environmental reporting has changed. Profit margins make it increasingly rarer to have reporters dedicated to environmental science, policy and activism issues and events. There is always the media frenzy over “big” stories like an oil spill, dam removal, killer whale death and mass protest but we’re less likely to get knowledgeable reporting about ongoing land use, water quality, research and policy issues.

At the same time, those who might serve as “newsmakers” like government agencies and environmental not-for-profit groups do their jobs but say less and less about the state of the Salish Sea. The Puget Sound Partnership and the restoration of Puget Sound has faded from public view. Attention has shifted to ocean acidification, global warming and climate change, and it’s rarer to hear anyone speaking on behalf of the Salish Sea.

During the last few years, however, a most notable exception has been the emerging role of Treaty Tribes and First Nations in the Salish Sea. As government and non-profit advocacy voices for the health of the Sound and Straits have ebbed, native leaders have spoken and acted decisively in fossil fuel issues, sustainable harvest, and habitat protection and restoration-- as sovereign nations.

That’s welcomed. We cheer the successful restoration of the Elwha River and the Nisqually Delta. We watch for results from expensive cleanup of our bays and harbors and new stormwater infrastructure. We worry about vessel mishaps coming from increased vessel traffic, dying sea stars, fish and shellfish toxins... Since there no longer are timelines for the Sound’s recovery, we wonder, in a time of changing climate and ocean chemistry whether our progress in habitat restoration, pollution removal and toxic chemical reduction exceeds, or at least equals, the Salish Sea’s growing population, economic growth, impervious surfaces and consumer consumption and waste.

As readers might have noticed, some days there’s a lot of Salish Sea news, some days not. What’s reported depends on what editors and reporters think important enough to write about and what there’s time and resources to research and write about. Nobody expect a full feature article every week about the state of the Salish Sea but it would be good for news to be reported with a fuller understanding of the interconnectedness of the land, water, plants and animals and human activities in the Salish Sea basin. A killer whale story is as much about our activities on land, the nearshore environment, toxic chemicals and forage fish as it might be about salmon prey availability. A local land use or development issue is as much a story about climate change, runoff, salmon and forage fish. You know the drill: it’s all one ecosystem, connected, vulnerable, wonderful.

We rely on some good reporters doing their jobs and you will see their bylines in the clip compilations: Lynda Mapes and Hal Bernton at the Seattle Times, Bellamy Pailthorp at KNKX, Phuong Le at Associated Press, Allison Morrow at KING, Jeff Burnside at KOMO, Tristan Baurick at Kitsap Sun, Noah Haglund at Everett Herald, Kimberly Cauvel at Skagit Valley Herald, Samantha Wohlfeil and Kie Relyea at Bellingham Herald, Derrick Nunnally and Jeffery Mayor at Tacoma News Tribune, Paul Gottlieb at Peninsula Daily News, Chris Dunagan at Watching Our Water Ways, Bob Simmons at Cascadia Weekly, Floyd McKay at Crosscut, Martha Baskin at Green Acres Radio, Amy Smart and Bill Cleverley at Times–Colonist, Larry Pynn at Vancouver Sun, Mark Hume at Globe and Mail, and a whole slew of spot news folks at the CBC.

A couple of housekeeping notes: Folks have asked ‘why tug weather?’ and the answer is:  to maintain a focus on one of the most vulnerable areas in the Salish Sea, where thankfully there is now a full-time rescue tug stationed but where ships proceed unescorted by tugs. The other high risk area, as more fossil fuel exports are proposed is the narrow channel of Haro Strait where all Canadian traffic enters and exits the northern Salish Sea.

Folks have asked how long it takes to put the weekday clipping together. Maybe there’s a handy app that compiles news clippings efficiently but, because I enjoy the task and am a news junkie, it only takes about an hour to scan publications and broadcasts online. The most problematic part is oftentimes finding an appropriate photo and story to lead the day’s blog, an image and story at least mildly informative, relevant and engaging to get your early morning read started.

I’ll keep compiling; I hope you will keep reading.

--Mike Sato