Environment: "We're All in This Together," Murray Tells Conservation Leaders

Nov 01 2006

Senator Applauds Cascade Land Conservancy for taking the long view and focusing on the common good instead of quick fixes and "what's it in for me."

(Tacoma, Washington) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) delivered the keynote address at a luncheon honoring conservation leaders in Pierce County. More than 600 people attended the event, which was sponsored by the Cascade Land Conservancy and held at the Tacoma Convention Center. The group presented its Helen Engle Lifetime Achievement Award to George Russell for his support of environmental sustainability.

In her remarks, Murray called for a return to the traditional values of community and a focus on the long-term good. Perspectives that she said have been missing in business and government.

"If we continue on this path – if our nation makes decisions based on instant gratification and "what's in it for me" – we won't be leaving much for the next generation," Murray said. "As a good friend said to me, we have forgotten if you want to have a good neighborhood, you need to be a good neighbor."

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

Thank you Joan for that introduction, and thank you to Craig Ueland, Ryan Dicks, and Ryan Mello. I also want to thank your president, chair and board members. This is an impressive turnout. I'm excited to be here today, and I'm really energized to see such a strong turnout in support of the Cascade Land Conservancy.

Coming to a luncheon like this always reminds me of the best and the worst part of my job as your United States Senator. The best part is that I get to represent the greatest state in the nation -- the State of Washington -- where smart, enterprising people work together to carry out our highest values. That's the best part!

The worst part is that to do my job I have to go to the other Washington -- the one they built on a swamp. Talk about different worlds! That's why coming to an event like this energizes me. Being here with all of you reminds me of what I'm fighting for back in Washington, D.C.

I want to congratulate the local heroes we're going to honor today for the work you do and the example you set. Here in Washington state, we have a great tradition of preserving the places that make our region unique, and the CLC has taken that tradition to new heights.

I've been honored to work with the CLC over the years to help protect at-risk land, and to make sure we leave the right legacy for the next generation. I've been able to work with all of you to secure funding for the Skykomish River, Maury Island, Raging River, and Yakima River projects. And this year, I continue to work on funding land acquisition for the Cascade Checkerboard. You have some great projects you're working on like the Green Seattle Partnership and the Green Tacoma Partnership. These are really creative efforts to help restore our urban forests and parkland.

Today I appreciate the opportunity to update you on the fight in Washington, D.C., but first I really want to put your efforts in the broader context of where we are as a country and where we're headed.

Your work is a radical departure from the prevailing ethic of our day, and a true reflection of the best traditions of our country. If that sounds like a contradiction, let me explain.

We all know this is an incredibly challenging time for our country. We have the War in Iraq, a nuclear North Korea, and terror threats here at home. We have tremendous needs in our local communities for healthcare, transportation and housing. We have families sacrificing while a loved one is deployed overseas, and we have veterans returning home who need our help. We have all these challenges that we need to face together, and yet our country is deeply polarized.

In this environment, many people don't know where to turn or what to rely on to get us through these tough times.

I think the answer is simple. We need to embrace the values that helped our country emerge from past wars and the Great Depression. Values we don't hear much about like sacrifice, community, democracy, and hard work.

You see, I believe that in tough times, we need to turn back to our core values because they show us where we've come from, and they guide us to where we need to go.

As I look around, I don't see those traditional values in great favor. I often don't see a real commitment to the long-term outcome or the common good.

Instead, too often I see a mindset that's based on "short-term", "quick-fix", and "what's in it for me". . . sort of the Enron philosophy.

We see that attitude in financial investments, where too often decisions are made on the next quarter instead of the next decade. We see it in consumer spending, where people buy things on credit that they don't need and can't afford.

And most troubling, we see it in our government in budget decisions on healthcare, transportation, housing, and the environment.

If we continue on this path – if our nation makes decisions based on instant gratification and "what's in it for me" – we won't be leaving much for the next generation.

Our country has always declared, "We're all in this together" with common spaces, public schools, and shared responsibilities.

But today the message seems to be, "Go into your own house, and shut your own doors, because what's happening to you is more important than what's happening in your neighborhood."

We see it in our domestic and our foreign policies. As a good friend said to me, we have forgotten if you want to have a good neighborhood, you need to be a good neighbor.

Now I'm not going to argue against self-interest. It's a fine motivator, but it can't be the only influence.

There has to be more than "what's it in for me" if our country is going to move forward together. And there has to more than individual gain if our country is going to address the common challenges we face.

The answer in my mind is to return to those traditional values that have sustained our country over so many generations. And that's what the Cascade Land Conservancy does. You had the courage to look at the long term. For some organizations that would be a 10-year plan, but you created a 100-year plan.

Just think about that – while our entire society is focused on today and this week, you're challenging us to think on a much longer timeframe. While everyone else is planting annuals, you're planting trees.

And while so much of our society is focused on "what's in it for me," you're focused on what's in it for us. That's why it's so energizing to come to a lunch like this and talk with people who are fighting for those great values everyday.

I'm going to take your energy and your commitment with me back to Washington, D.C., and I'm gonna need it, because it's tough time in the nation's capitol.

At the federal level, investments are going in the wrong direction. Healthcare, transportation, and the environment have seen devastating cuts.

Now politicians will tell you that there's just not enough money. And that's true. In this era of deficits, we can't fund everything. But it's a question of priorities.

When I see how this Administration and Congress have treated the Land and Water Conservation Fund, it's clear. Back in 2000, President Bush said he would fully-fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That would be about $900 million. But since 2001, their budget proposals have steadily declined. Now we're at about one-third of the promised amount.

I fight for more funding in the Senate. Norm Dicks fights for more funding in the House. But between the White House and the Congressional majority – it's really hard to hold onto the funding we've secured. That's frustrating because I know how effective you can be when you have the right support from our government and from our community.

As I think about those values I mentioned, I think about when I was growing up and the values my parents instilled in me and my brothers and sisters. We grew up with a sense that we were all in this together. That's the spirit we need to recapture as a country, and that's the value that you embody in your everyday work. We are all in this together.

It's a tremendous challenge for our communities, our state, and our country, but those who have the courage and vision to look out 100 years never shy away from a challenge.

So, thank you for working every day to protect our great places. Thank you for setting an example that we can think beyond ourselves and we can look beyond today. Thank you for leaving our grandchildren with a beautiful legacy. And most important, thank you for standing up for the values that make our country strong.