Op-Ed: It’s time to put people ahead of fish

Earlier this month, I received a press release from the governor’s office. It touted how Gov. Gregoire had approved spending $5.6 million for projects to provide cleaner water for salmon. Isn’t it interesting, I noted to my assistant, that the governor is considering deep cuts to essential human services in an effort to close a $2.6 billion budget deficit, but we’re still spending millions of dollars to save salmon without any measurable results.

The following week, the governor released her supplement budget. It proposed to eliminate the state’s Basic Health Plan, health care coverage for children, medical services to 17,000 adults, close developmentally disabled residential centers, slash funding for colleges, and do away with school levy equalization funding. Yet in that same budget, she proposes to spend millions more for environmental programs.

Coincidentally, while the governor was unveiling her cuts against kids and vulnerable citizens, Sen. Patty Murray was in Washington, D.C., announcing an additional $80 million in federal salmon recovery money for our state.

One week later, the governor was in Copenhagen pushing for expensive climate change legislation that will cost more people their jobs. And here at home, the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board announced $43 million in grants for salmon restoration.

I couldn’t help but think: We’re not protecting jobs and we don’t have enough money to protect our state’s most vulnerable citizens, yet millions are being spent to protect salmon and promote extreme environmental interests.

I believe saving salmon is a noble cause, as well as ensuring a clean environment. The 39th District has some of the most pristine areas of the state. We certainly want to keep it that way for future generations. But somehow, extreme environmentalism has become the dominating force in Olympia, surpassing real people’s needs.

For example, it only took months for a company to secure the necessary permits to break ground in 2006 on a biodiesel production plant in Hoquiam. By contrast, it took two decades and a change of ownership before permits were issued for a gold mine that would create 200 jobs in Eastern Washington. The difference? The biodiesel plant had the support of environmentalists, but the Buckhorn mine, which would supply needed jobs in the economically depressed town of Republic, faced fierce environmental opposition.

Hundreds of examples exist that show the power of the environmental lobby. Most frustrating is there’s no tangible goal line to satisfy environmentalists. Taxpayers’ money is spent, but we will never reach a measurable goal line because it doesn’t exist, and it never will.

Let’s go back to the salmon. A news report in April noted “hundreds of millions of dollars have been plowed into improving habitat for salmon over the past three decades in the Columbia River basin. What do we get for all that money?” It’s tough to say, the report said. That’s because little monitoring exists to determine exactly whether wild salmon are on the comeback. No one can say with certainty whether money pumped into saving fish have truly saved fish. (Click here to read that report online.)

While we’re spending millions on fish and endless environmental programs, people are losing their homes and their livelihoods. Don’t they matter too? I believe saving salmon is a good thing, but I think people are more important.

Soon the governor will propose another budget full of tax increases to buy back those cuts she’s proposed. Instead of asking for higher taxes, why not prioritize spending? Here’s a novel idea: Let’s put the protection of people ahead of fish.

EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him and sign up for his e-newsletter at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000