Former EPA head talks environment: Ruckelshaus speaks in Blyn - claims 'property rights complicate matters'

    By Diane Urbani De La Paz
    Peninsula Daily News   

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    “Nothing is harder than convincing a landowner to change the way the land is managed, to achieve a public good", he [Ruckelshaus] said.

    BLYN, WA---Healing our woods and waters will guarantee better quality of life for us all: that’s obvious.

    The complicated parts come when business and environmental interest groups try to work together with governments.

    That was the message from William Ruckelshaus, and he ought to know.

    Ruckelshaus, who gave a keynote speech Saturday night to the Audubon Council of Washington

    conference at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Center, was the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s first administrator in 1970.  He went on to work for private companies including Weyerhaeuser Co.---and for Republican and Democrat presidents.

    After seven years heading Washington’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board, Ruckelshaus, 75, embarked this summer on a whole new expedition: the Puget Sound Partnership to restore the sound by 2020 (see

    As it’s leadership council chairman, he’s charged with preparing an action plan by next September.

    Ruckelshaus can do it, said Robert Lynette, an organizer of the Audubon Council event that drew 110 people from around Washington to the conference.

    “He has the combination of business know-how and governmental agency experience to cut through the bureaucracy” that could immobilize the PSP, Lynette said.

    In his speech, Ruckelshaus urged the people of the North Olympic Peninsula---and all “citizens of the Sound”---to engage in the restoration efforts.

    “It’s our home.  It’s up to us,” he said.  “Our health and the health of Puget Sound go together.”

    Property rights

    He acknowledged that property rights complicate matters.

    “Nothing is harder than convincing a landowner to change the way the land is managed, to achieve a public good, he said.”

    But, “we risk permanent damage if we don’t change the way we develop,” Ruckelshaus warned.

    “Fish, birds, and mammals drive our fishing and tourism industries, of course, and with 40 threatened or endangered species in the Puget Sound watershed, our livelihoods could likewise become precarious,” he said.

    “The 4 million people of this region---to grow past 5 million by 2020---are interdependent with this wealth of wildlife.”

    Ruckelshaus gave a few examples of changes that must come:  We must turn to public transit and alternative-fuel vehicles, he said, adding that the numerous Prius hybrids in the tribal center parking lot warmed his heart.

    And we need to retrofit conventional asphalt to surfaces that absorb stormwater, he added, to prevent contaminants from pouring into our rivers and seas.

    Organizations can help

    Organizations such as the Audubon Society can help by counting birds and other creatures, Ruckelshaus said.

    Counts and monitoring provide the data the Puget Sound Partnership needs to show levels of environmental sickness.

    “We need to be like a Bureau of Labor Statistics,” using such counts like the unemployment numbers that indicate economic health---or lack thereof, he said.

    “We’ve got to stop thinking of this as government versus business,” he said, adding that the Puget Sound Partnership will hold governments accountable by issuing “report cards” on environmental restoration projects.

    He received a standing ovation after presenting his final point.

    “The Puget Sound Partnership is a great example of how democracy can still work.  If we put our minds to it,” the people and their government can restore the ecosystem and grow a cleaner economy, he said.

    “We could show the rest of the world how a democratic system can cope with its own complexity.”



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