BARRIERS TO IMPLEMENTATION AND RECOVERY

Challenges to advancing recovery and opportunities going forward

It is an ambitious goal to undo 150 years of environmental degradation, particularly in the context of continuing demands on the ecosystem from population growth and the challenges of remaining competitive in an every changing global economy. By their very nature, efforts to strengthen regulations, modify how our communities look and function and even ask individuals to change their daily habits will face roadblocks along the way. We described a number of our barriers to implementing the Action Agenda in the 2013 State of the Sound. While we continue to make progress in addressing these, our experience suggests that helping our decision-makers and our citizens make “Sound Choices” in the years ahead will be the key to our success.

REGULATORY LOOPHOLES AND PERMIT BARRIERS

Challenge: Despite listing of Chinook salmon under the Endangered Species Act more than a decade ago, and absolute clarity about the negative impacts of certain land use practices and handling of pollutants on Puget Sound, a number of policies and regulations still include exceptions that impede our recovery. These include exemptions for “small” projects, caps on costs for individuals or certain businesses, and phasing in of requirements over long timeframes for the public to adjust to proposed changes. In addition, conflicting regulatory requirements and overlapping jurisdictional responsibilities can make compliance difficult and cumbersome, even slowing down projects that are designed to restore the environment.

Recommendation: We need to provide stronger support for our decision-makers at all government levels to make unpopular decisions, and develop options for them to consider that help balance competing demands.

PUBLIC MISPERCEPTION OF THE PROBLEM.

Challenge: The sparkling waters of Puget Sound suggest to the public that Puget Sound is fine. Recent surveys indicate that even among those residents who recognize that grave problems exist, they do not understand the urgency and have “recovery fatigue.” They have heard the message for a long time and have either lost hope, motivation or the desire to engage since they do not see progress. Others do not feel personal responsibility for taking action.

Recommendation: Long-term success will require new strategies to change public perception and engage our decision-makers and members of the public in solutions. If we rely on the public health analogy, it has been 65 years since the Surgeon General warned us about the dangers of smoking. Puget Sound cannot wait that long for its citizens to heed the warning and act.

DIFFICULTY TACKLING THE SIGNIFICANT ROLE THAT PRIVATE INTERESTS HAVE IN RECOVERY EFFORTS

Challenge: Differences persist with Puget Sound communities over how to balance the benefits of measures that are necessary to protect our natural resources and reduce contamination to our groundwater and surface water against the cost of changing business and land development practices. These conflicts are especially apparent in our rural agricultural communities and in communities that do not want to restrict growth or limit the use of private property.  Many of these actions entail significant sacrifices or seem too costly to one segment of the population, even when these actions may benefit the whole. Balancing ecosystem recovery needs with competing demands for services such as health, transportation, education and social welfare will require making unpopular decisions.

Recommendation: We need a comprehensive strategy that tips the scale in favor of bearing the costs for recovery to benefit future generations including new creative approaches to attracting investment in Puget Sound recovery. We need to work with landowner groups and major economic interest groups to find “win-win” solutions that will enable them to prosper in conducting their businesses while changing practices that contribute to the ongoing degradation of Puget Sound.

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