InvestigateWest reached a milestone this week when we co-hosted a large public-policy forum on the State Capitol grounds in Olympia.
The subject was stormwater, the polluted rainwater runoff I’ve been writing about for perhaps a decade now, with particular emphasis on its effects on Puget Sound, where it is the largest source of toxics. For two years running environmentalists have unsuccessfully advanced plans in Olympia to raise money to deal with the problem. More bills are pending in the current legislative session, so it seemed like a logical time to raise the issue’s profile and encourage a frank discussion.
That we got. And while we never expected to resolve the entire issue at a lunchtime forum, it did feel like progress to hear all the panelists acknowledge that stormwater is a difficult problem that somehow we are going to have to deal with collectively.
Seven legislators and several legislative aides joined environmentalists, business lobbyists and at least three journalists in the audience of 70. Overall it had the tone of a civil discussion with respect for all points of view – the kind of civic discourse often lacking in this age so seemingly dominated by vitriol. Once upon a time, news organizations did more of this kind of thing. The presidential debates of 1956 and 1960 may be the best-known examples. Journalists do still occasionally organize these events, but it seems to me that more of this sort of discussion could be helpful to citizens and policy-makers on all sides of many issues.
Co-hosting were Sightline Institute and Washington Policy Center, the two think tanks that have most carefully followed the stormwater story in Washington. I was fortunate to work with Brandon Houskeeper, a policy analyst at WPC, and Lisa Stiffler, journalism fellow at Sightline.
The whole room was fortunate to have on the panel Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director of the Washington Department of Ecology; Grant Nelson, government relations manager for the Association of Washington Business; and Bill Ruckelshaus, two-time former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and founding chairman of the Leadership Council at the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency responsible for rescuing the Sound.
Lisa captured the major points in her post at Sightline.org. She even has a pretty complete look at what was said there. Hat’s off to Lisa for that! And John Dodge did a nice job covering it for The Olympian.
If you’re interested in knowing about other events like this, drop me a line at rmcclure at invw dot org.