By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- Bruce Chandler has found the state Legislature "is a lot like farming."
With 15 years in office and 30 years owning and operating an orchard near Granger, Wash., "There's never a year I haven't learned a lot. Each one is unique."
Granger, the ranking Republican on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, spoke to Washington Farm Bureau members at their annual Legislative Days on Feb. 5.
Reflecting on last fall's elections, a new governor and the new Senate coalition, "There's no clear sense of where we want to go," he said. "We have a stable economy. It's broke, but it's stable."
Chandler said agriculture, which accounts for 13 percent of the state's overall economy, is the "stabilizing cornerstone" of the economy, not just in Washington but throughout the Northwest. According to the Farm Bureau, the Washington ag industry accounts for 160,000 jobs and produces $46 billion in revenue.
Just as farming is undergoing a generational shift, Chandler said, the economy that emerges from the current recession will be different from what came before, and the Legislature needs to adjust to a new reality.
It helps that this session has seen fewer bills introduced, "which will get more thoughtful consideration," he said.
As an orchardist in the Yakima Valley, Chandler has become keenly aware of water issues, and his name appears on many pieces of water-related legislation.
Repeating the adage that "whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting," he said, "Water is going to be a political flashpoint, not just in our country, but globally."
Also speaking to the Farm Bureau was Bill Lynch, a member of the Pollution Control Hearings Board, which he called "the pre-Superior Court for environmental law."
The board hears appeals from orders and decisions made by the state Department of Ecology and other agencies. Its function is to provide litigants a complete administrative hearing, followed by an impartial written decision based on the facts and law. The board is not affiliated with the Department of Ecology or any other state agency.
A recent case involved Ecology's appeal of a Superior Court judge's dismissal of the board's order requiring rancher Joe Lemire to avoid the risk of pollution from his 29 head of cattle in Pataha Creek. That case was heard in the Supreme Court in November. No ruling has been handed down.
Lynch said he could not comment on any cases under litigation, but he did describe the board's operation and how it works to remain impartial.
In a penalty case, he said, the burden of proof is on the agency. The board looks at data, statistics and studies, and it takes testimony from all witnesses the opposing parties bring forward.
"We are not a rubber stamp," he said.
All three current board members are attorneys with different areas of expertise. Lynch said his background includes water, salmon, air quality and small forestland owners. The board also has staff members who can provide free assistance through the process, "instead of hiring a lawyer."