Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
AWB Environmental Conference
October 20, 2004
Thank you, Don [Brunell], for that kind introduction. And congratulations to AWB on its 8th annual Environmental Conference.
I'm pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you about all the progress we have made in regulatory reform during the past eight years, but also some important steps we must continue to take into the future.
I was reading through your agenda and see you're covering a variety of traditional environmental and regulatory topics such as water and air quality and hazardous waste.
I'm very pleased to see the attention also being paid to the growing challenges we face in making sustainability part of our everyday lives, addressing the threat of global warming, and determining what can be done about persistent bioaccumulative toxins.
As we tackle these future challenges, we must also continue to improve our own environmental regulatory system. This means continuing to streamline processes and eliminate redundancies, while still protecting our environment and maintaining our quality of life.
This is an important balance to strike, and we have made significant improvements in these areas in recent years. Our steady progress in regulatory reform has laid a strong foundation upon which we can build a regulatory system that already serves as a model for all states.
Environmental protection really moved to center stage in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. But throughout the 80’s, regulations were enacted in a piecemeal fashion.
These programs were established with the best of intentions to address environmental problems. But they were not done with a sense of integration or a consistent long-term vision.
As a result, we were left with a patchwork of laws and rules that were overlapping, redundant and often times counterproductive. Those laws and rules focused on specific issues and problems. There was no sense of how they fit into the bigger picture. No sense of how to make them work as a system.
For example, in the area of water quality, individual permits were once required of anyone discharging into a body of water. This meant a time-consuming application process through the state Department of Ecology. Permit conditions were established on a case-by-case basis, with no clear up-front standards for the applicant.
In the 401 Water Quality Certification Program, where the state certifies that a project meets all the state’s water quality standards, the application process and standards were confusing and lacked transparency. Timelines for permit issuance were all over the map.
Many of you are familiar with how the world of water rights used to be. There was gridlock on water issues, a lack of investment in water policy, dramatic reductions by the Legislature in water rights permitting staff and the resulting mushrooming in processing backlogs.
Obsolete data systems and archaic paper records made the job harder. Projects stalled because water rights were not available in timely manner. And most significantly, we did not have a very good way for dealing with the large, more complex projects. Our environmental permitting world was in need of repair.
In 1997, one of my first acts after taking office was to issue an executive order requiring every state cabinet-level agency to review all of its rules. I directed agencies to streamline, simplify, and clarify their rules and regulations. This was an extraordinary effort that agencies took very seriously. State agencies reviewed nearly 24,000 regulations. They repealed 6,550 administrative rules. That means we tore up more than 2,000 pages of rules and simplified thousands more into plain English.
Over the last 8 years, we have worked to make every state agency more efficient, more effective, and their rules more understandable to the people they serve. We’ve had a subcabinet on management improvement and results. We established two Competitiveness Council reviews. We created the Economic Development Commission by executive order and then we passed a law to make sure no governor could undo it.
By legislation, we created an Office of regulatory Assistance, and I appointed a Special Assistant for Business and Regulatory Reform to oversee permit streamlining. Ecology established its Regulatory Performance Advisors Group. These changes improved our business climate, and served to create progress we are seeing today.
A study by the Tax Foundation ranked Washington No. 9 in the nation for having business friendly tax climates. The Small Business Entrepreneurial Council ranked Washington the 4th friendliest business environment. We have continued to become more business-friendly and more competitive the past several years. The U.S. Census Bureau recently released state rankings for state and local tax burdens. And we ranked 31st, meaning 30 states have higher tax burdens. This is the lowest our state has ranked since 1981! In the two evaluations since I took office, Governing Magazine and Cornell University have each time named Washington among the five best-managed states in the nation. A few months ago, the National Policy Research Council issued its national rankings of all states and major U.S. cities. Washington state government was ranked number one. We were ranked third in Economic Dynamism. This category analyzes the competitiveness and performance of every state’s economy.
I am very proud of the way we have used technology to make government more efficient and deliver government services more conveniently. Things that used to take agencies months are now done within days. We have won numerous national awards for the services we provide online. We’ve been named “the most digital state government” in the country almost every year for the past seven years.
Washington's unemployment rate for September dropped six-tenths of a percentage point to 5.6 percent, the largest decrease in the September rate since 1978. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held steady at 5.4 percent. After hovering at or above six percent since March of 2001, Washington's September unemployment rate is now just two-tenths of a percentage point above the national rate of 5.4 percent.
All of these efforts resulted in a lot of progress in all aspects of state government, but particularly in the area of environmental regulation. Ecology has set timeliness targets for the permits it issues. It is making great progress in meeting those targets. Ecology has also developed flow-charts that visually set out the permitting process so that everyone knows what the process should be, what the steps are, and what actions are expected at every stage of the process.
In the 401 Water Quality Certification Program, we have significantly changed the application process so it is now more transparent, applicants get technical assistance in developing their mitigation plans, and standards are up-front. And Ecology is meeting their 90-90 goal – that is, 90 percent of 401 certifications issued within 90 days.
We’ve also established a multi-agency team to deal with transportation permits.
This inter-agency group has made this process faster and smoother. Ecology and other state agencies are not what they used to be six years ago.
These improvements have had a real effect on our ability to attract and maintain businesses. For example, we approved a Safeway distribution center—the largest construction project in Safeway’s history— on a site with soil contamination in less than 60 days without lowering environmental standards without any appeals by environmental groups. And we were able to quickly approve the Port of Seattle’s plan to build its cruise ship terminal despite sensitive water issues.
Indeed, nine national companies have chosen Washington over Oregon, Idaho and even California for major regional operations manufacturing centers, employing 2,500 new employees.
Some of our most significant changes came in the area of water resources. Against all odds, I set about making substantive changes in water policy. We changed water rights permitting to create an express line for processing changes or transfers of existing water rights. The result is putting existing water to better use.
These changes to our water resource laws were done while continuing to work towards our environmental goals. We developed a state ESA response to protect wild salmon.
We removed 1,100 fish passage barriers, opening up 1,300 miles of stream habitat to salmon due to permit streamlining.
We’ve also made significant progress in how power plant projects are reviewed and permitted. EFSEC has produced clear quantifiable environmental standards for permitting large power plants. And Ecology has followed suit for smaller power plants.
These standards will enable project planners to know up-front the regulatory expectations. Instead of a long process of hearings with community concerns resulting in negotiations with applicants that produced different environmental standards from one power plant to another, there is now one clear set of objective standards, which results in faster permits.
We created an Office of Regulatory Assistance in 2003 to coordinate multi-agency review and response of large projects. Project applicants can now work with one point-of-contact. This improves the timeliness of projects. And it reduces costs by minimizing the number of needed reports and responses to agencies.
We are using technology and the Internet to make services more accessible and convenient than ever before. We have online descriptions of all environmental permits, what they cover, and how to get them. We have an online permit assistance system that can help you figure out what permits are needed for your project. We are working to help permit applicants understand what information agencies need to make permit decisions.
And we are developing on-line permit application and tracking systems.
We have made a lot of changes. But this is only the beginning of what we can achieve in regulatory reform and environmental protection. I believe there are further actions we must take that will not only further streamline the permitting process, but also improve the way we protect the environment.
We can better utilize technology and the Internet to make services more accessible and convenient than ever before. Today, licensing, taxpaying, and information access are only a few of the areas that have been revolutionized by the Internet. There is still more that we can do.
Very soon, project directors will be able to apply for a permit over the Internet and also access detailed information on permit requirements at the federal, state and local levels.
And by posting project related studies and reports online, the applicant can save time and money and the reviewing agencies will become more efficient. When we make this information available to the public earlier in the process, we can incorporate and address concerns earlier. This helps minimize appeals.
We must also better integrate land use planning with environmental regulation.
Through better planning we can identify critical environmental resources, plan for protection of those resources, and create improved linkages between these protections and mitigation. The end result would be a “plug-and-play” approach to planning and permitting projects. If the project “plugs” into or meets the planning and environmental criteria, then ecology will play by quickly issuing permits. This could also lead to a reduction of permits to only one, single permit.
Progress in integrating the pieces must also improve the way agencies and federal and local jurisdictions work together. Multi-agency and cross-jurisdictional coordination is the fastest way to streamline the regulatory process and must be pursued aggressively.
We are already doing that on some major, complex issues in our state. But we must do it more often.
We must also be proactive on environmental issues. We must take action on issues of worldwide environmental importance such as global warming. Acting now to combat this potential catastrophe will create great economic opportunities for Washington companies, minimize costs to all citizens, and maximize environmental benefits.
Make no mistake; global warming is a very real threat in the Northwest, according to scientists at UW and Battelle. It threatens our economy. It threatens our environment.
It threatens our health, and the health of our children. We see evidence of climate change in the Pacific Northwest in reduced snow pack, insect infestation threats, greater dangers of forest fires, and increased erosion from flooding.
We must respond to this threat as a state and region, especially in the absence of federal action. Governors Kulongoski, Schwarzenegger and I are working on a West Coast Global Warming Initiative to take some critical steps to begin to address this problem as a region. We have taken some steps already.
We are already implementing measures for the reduction of diesel soot and other emissions that cause warming from trucks, marine vessels and locomotives. We are beginning the work to electrify docks for cruise ships and install infrastructure to electrify truck stops. Our program to convert diesel school buses to reduce their emissions has surpassed 1,000 buses and still counting.
I will be unveiling more actions we want to take, as well as an executive order on sustainability, at a news conference this afternoon at 2:45 in Room 616.
Just to give you a preview, I will be talking about the great success we’ve had in promoting sustainability. Since my energy efficiency directive in 2001 26 state agencies have reduced the use of electricity and natural gas in more than 2,000 buildings. In the first year alone, state government reduced electricity use by 11% and natural gas use by 14%. This is enough electricity to provide for 3,700 northwest homes. The first year electricity savings of 50 million kWh reduced government energy costs by $3 million.
In addition to saving energy and dollars agencies have also helped reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming. The first year energy savings reduced CO2 emissions by 39,000 tons, which is equivalent to removing 5,000 cars from the road or planting 10,000 trees. State agencies will continue to pursue new opportunities to use our energy resources more efficiently, including investing in renewable energy projects like solar. This is good for the environment, creates jobs and helps reduce government operating expenses.
The challenge for government is to continue making the regulatory process more transparent and consistent. We must build in flexibility to encourage innovation, without ever lowering our standards on the environment, health, safety, and protection. It won’t do us any good to have a simple regulatory system if we destroy our environment, endanger our children, or damage our health. As last weeks oil spill in Puget Sound demonstrated, you don’t need a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez to create environmental damage, and the public deeply cares about our environment.
But to get there, we have to work together. It is the responsibility of all of us, business and government, to work together to continue to grow our economy preserving our environmental quality of life that has attracted and kept so many companies here in our state.
Thank you for your help and suggestions over the past eight years as we have transformed our regulatory system. There is more to do. But we have created the kind of future many of you thought was never possible.
Don’t just take my word for it. Ecology recently conducted a survey of all its customers.
The respondents expressed that Ecology had made great improvements in transparency, timeliness, and customer service. This survey showed that, without as doubt, a transformation has occurred. We must keep building on this momentum.