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Inslee vs. McKenna: Down to the wire on environmental issues

The Associated Press

For residents of The Evergreen State, the economy and the environment are two of the most important issues. They're shaping arguments in the hotly-contested race for Washington's next Governor.

So, if you’re choosing a candidate, who’s the greenest?

Current Attorney General Rob McKenna and former U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee are both vying for voters who care about the earth. 

Republican Rob McKenna called a recent press conference on the boardwalk at Bellevue’s Mercer Slough Park. He says it’s a place he’s been attached to since his days restoring the wetland area as a young Boy Scout.

McKenna used the location to launch what his campaign called an environmental white paper, outlining his priorities, if he’s elected governor.

“We’re all Washingtonians. We all care about the environment, " McKenna said. "One of the reasons we all love living here is the great natural environment."

He was responding to a question about how important these issues are to voters, relative to other themes highlighted in his campaign. 

"Everyone I think considers themselves an environmentalist. So it’s always there in the background," McKenna said. "And frankly, to an extent, I think voters deserve to assume--take for granted--that their elected officials care about those issues, and (will) lead on those issues.”

He also listed some of his environmental accomplishments as Washington’s Attorney General, and prior to that, on the King County Council.

One of his proudest moments, both as a lawyer and an environmentalist, he said, was winning in Supreme Court against the Canadian mining and smelting company, Teck Cominco. McKenna says it had been dumping slag into the Columbia River, that wound up in Lake Roosevelt.

“We won in the 9th-Circuit on the question of whether or not they could be sued, under American environmental laws. We prevailed. And then I personally worked the issue with the US solicitor general, to keep that decision intact at the 9th circuit, so it wasn't appealed up to the US Supreme Court.”

At McKenna’s side in the campaign is a man many of us know as the most famous environmentalist in the Republican party: former Governor Dan Evans, who served three terms in Olympia (from 1965-77,) before going on to the U.S. Senate.

Evans is credited with founding the country’s first state-level department of ecology, which became President Nixon’s blueprint for the federal EPA.       

“And I found during that time that environment and environment-protection makes its biggest gains through bi-partisanship and cooperation, not through the courts and through political manipulation,” Evans said.

But while the Attorney General has the endorsement of Washington’s greatest moderate statesman, Inslee is getting more grassroots support.

“The environmental community here in Washington is more organized politically now than I think I have ever seen them,” says Brendon Cechovic, Executive Director of the Washington Conservation Voters.

The group is one of many environmental organizations endorsing Jay Inslee for governor. Together with the national League of Conservation Voters, they are pouring an unprecedented amount of cash, $750,000, into supporting Inslee’s campaign.

For Inslee, Cechovic says, the League has issued its first gubernatorial endorsement in 42 years.

“We’re big believers in states as drivers of change. And to have the opportunity to have somebody like a Jay Inslee, one of the strongest environmental champions in the United States, in our governor's office, is just tremendously exciting for the national environmental movement.”

He says they’ve got thousands of people door-belling for Inslee. They fear that McKenna’s promises to “harmonize” state and federal regulations would be a race to the bottom.

McKenna's camp says they would only get rid of environmental laws that don’t make sense.

Inslee’s campaign, like Mckenna’s is centered on jobs and the economy. McKenna says small businesses would thrive if they're not subject to so much red tape in state laws. Less fettered, he says they would thrive.

But in Inslee’s case, the argument is environmental. He wants use public policy to help create jobs in clean industries such as biotech and renewable energy sources, like solar power.

“We know these jobs are going to be created. The only question is where? China, or Washington State? We want those jobs right here, in our state,” Inslee said after a labor rally at a union hall in Kent last Saturday afternoon.

Inslee’s interest in the clean energy sector isn’t new. He co-wrote a book on the subject that came out in 2007. In it, he compares the need for America to ignite the clean energy economy to President John F. Kennedy’s push to put a man on the moon.

“And the reason I know about these things is frankly, this has been what I have focused on for the last ten years,” Inslee says, referring to economic development policies he has supported to boost clean energy, aerospace and biotech.

McKenna’s campaign critiques the idea as risky in negative ads about Inslee's record.

Both sides agree new jobs are needed. And whoever wins will have lots of work to do cleaning up Puget Sound, finding greener transportation alternatives and keeping forests and agriculture healthy.  

More info on the web:

Mckenna's Environmental"white paper" ; Inslee's Key Issues (scroll down for Environment)

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to