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Environmental organization picks Senator Rolfes as Legislator of the Year

Sen. Christine Rolfes - Photo courtesy of the Washington State Legislature
Sen. Christine Rolfes
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Washington State Legislature

The environmental political group Washington Conservation Voters has presented state Senator Christine Rolfes its highest award by naming her 2014 “Legislator of the Year.”

The 23rd District lawmaker was honored for her outstanding leadership during the 2014 Legislative Session and for being one of the state’s strongest environmental leaders.

“In the Senate, Sen. Rolfes fought for real action to protect Puget Sound and the public from the threat of dangerous and increasing oil traffic in our state,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of Washington Conservation Voters. “She proved time and again that she is an effective champion who isn’t afraid to take on industry and the Big Oil lobby to protect our environment and communities.”

In 2014, Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island Democrat, spearheaded legislation in the Senate to tackle the state’s unprecedented challenge to improve public safety and the environment from major changes in the way oil moves through our communities. After an increase in tragic oil train derailments and a significant rise in the amount of oil spilled nationwide, Rolfes introduced SB 6262, the “Oil Transportation Safety Act,” one of two environmental community priorities in 2014.

Rolfes’ bill required public disclosure of critical information on the nature and risks of oil shipments; authorized the state to establish or enhance requirements for tug escorts in Puget Sound, Grays Harbor, and on the Columbia River; imposed steep penalties on reckless vessel operators; and required the state to identify the most vulnerable areas for oil spills and the necessary tools to reduce the risk.

SB 6262 raised important questions about the rapid and dramatic changes in oil transport in Washington, but supporters noted the bill was killed by the oil industry and the Senate Majority Caucus. Instead, an industry-backed bill that did not provide the state with critical tools to adequately promote transparency and protect communities was passed through committee.

Later, in the 2014 Senate’s most dramatic moment on the floor, Rolfes skillfully used a rare procedural motion to set the industry bill aside. Her leadership resulted in the bill’s eventual demise, and Washington Conservation Voters said it was a deft and dramatic maneuver by Rolfes.

“Senator Rolfes is a true champion of the environment,” said Clifford Traisman, the organization’s state lobbyist. “When the Big Oil industry blocked the Oil Transportation Safety Act Priority bill and advocated for do-nothing legislation, it was Senator Rolfes who stood against industry to block their public relations ploy.”

Rolfes, as well, praised the work of organizations such as Washington Conservation Voters.

“Without groups like Washington Conservation Voters, the environment wouldn’t have a voice in government,” Rolfes said. “It is your work that leads directly to laws being passed, from headline issues like oil transportation to less visible issues like forage fish populations. I am honored to be recognized by such outstanding advocates, and remain hopeful that solutions can be found to even our biggest crises as long as we continue to work together.”

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