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Governor Gregoire, a Behind the Scenes Environmental Champion

By Craig Engelking, Sierra Club Cascade Chapter lobbyist

By now you've probably read or heard about how much better Gov. Gregoire is on the environment than her opponent, Dino Rossi. You've probably heard that she supports strong measures to reduce global warming pollution, that she's leading the effort to clean up and restore Puget Sound. And you've probably heard what a poor environmental record Dino Rossi has (heck, he's still not sure whether human activity is causing global warming!).

As the Sierra Club's lobbyist in Olympia, I've been fortunate enough to be in position to see Governor Gregoire in action, going all out on a range of issues. But there two in particular—where Governor Gregoire stepped in to save major climate change legislation—that I want to tell you about

The first occurred in 2005, her first legislative session as Governor. One of the environmental community's priorities that year was a bill that would require Washington to adopt the California clean car standards, which, if enacted, would significantly reduce tailpipe pollution.

At that time, we had a strong environmental majority in the House, but the Senate was very tight. On any given issue, we could easily lose a couple of rural Democrats and if we didn't pick up some of the suburban Republicans, we would not have enough votes to pass a bill.

The bill passed the House and moved to the Senate, but ran into trouble. Several of the rural Democratic Senators raised concerns and we needed their votes because only a couple of Republicans pledged to vote for it. It was getting late in the session, we were running out of time to pass the bill, and it didn't look like we had enough votes to pass the bill. But in the waning hours before final cutoff and the bill's demise, Governor Gregoire, went down to the wings of the Senate and began working the hesitant Senators one by one, pulling them off the Senate floor and addressing their concerns directly. When she was done working it, Gov. Gregoire turned around several Senators and we had enough votes to pass the bill, which she later signed.

(Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is blocking us from implementing the California Emissions Standards, but hopefully we will get the change we need!)

Then, this past legislative session, the Governor had major climate change legislation that was introduced at her request. The bill established a cap on greenhouse gas emissions that ratchets down over time and directs the Department of Ecology to develop the policy framework that will achieve those reductions. As Governor request legislation, it moved quickly, but ran into trouble when it was supposed to go to the House floor for a vote. House Speaker Frank Chopp kept postponing the vote, day after day, because he was uncomfortable with the bill.

After more than a week of delays, with cutoff approaching, the bill looked like it would die. If it didn't make it out of the House by 5 pm on Tuesday, it would have died. At about 3 pm that afternoon, Governor Gregoire walked from her office across the Legislative Building back to Speaker Chopp's office, deep in the corner of the House Chamber. They cleared the room of their assistants and had a heart to heart. Governor Gregoire walked Speaker Chopp through the bill, addressed his policy concerns one by one, well, who knows exactly what else they discussed. But when the meeting was over, Speaker Chopp came out, announced they would be running the bill and it passed the House 64-31. Later, the bill passed the Senate and Governor Gregoire signed it.Without Governor Gregoire intervening and personally working those bills, they both would have died, I am sure of it. But they passed because Governor Gregoire worked them, and as a result Washington is one of a handful of states leading the efforts in the US to fight global warming and transition to a green economy.

Click for information on Dino Rossi's record on the environment: www.wheresdino.org

Click for a complete list of Sierra Club endorsements