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Legislative session 2018, updated 2/26/18: What we're watching, what you can do

posted Jan 26, 2018, 1:45 PM by Simon Bakke   [ updated Feb 26, 2018, 1:52 PM ]
February 26th, 2018: Less than two weeks remain in this whirlwind 60-day legislative session. Friday, February 23rd was another key cutoff for bills to move forward. The critical cutoff is coming on Friday, March 2nd. Bills have to be voted out of the opposite chamber (i.e., if something started in the House and successfully made it into the Senate, it must pass out of the Senate by floor vote before 5:oo PM on March 2nd, unless it's been marked as Necessary to Implement the Budget, or NTIB).

Read below for updates on the status of the environmental priorities! 

We're calling on the legislature to take bold action on climate, protecting the Salish Sea, and keeping our shared water resources clean and plentiful. Here's how you can make sure our elected officials make these priorities:
Oil spill prevention 
(SB 6269)

February 26th, 2018: SB 6269 passed the Senate Ways & Means Committee. It will likely get a Senate floor vote this week. Necessary to implement budget.

Orcas, salmon, and our way of life in the Salish Sea are constantly at risk of a devastating oil spill, whether by vessel in our marine waters or by pipeline crossing our rivers. To make matters worse, the state Department of Ecology’s Oil Spills program is severely underfunded and may not be able to adequately respond to an oil spill, especially a tar sands oil spill containing diluted bitumen. Ecology has no way to adequately contain an oil spill of this type. Our fishing economy, tourism, and quality of life could be devastated if we aren’t prepared.

We stand in support of the Oil Spills Prevention Act (SB 6269) in order to...

Secure stable and reliable funding for oil spill prevention and preparedness work:
- All modes of moving oil must be taxed fairly. Pipelines now provide up to 40% of the overall oil moving in Washington, yet oil arriving by pipelines is not taxed in the same way as oil moving by rail or marine vessel.
- Increase the barrel tax to be more consistent with the level of California, address the current funding gap (over a $2.2M shortfall for the Oil Spills Program) as well as create a strong foundation for future needs.

Fully implement marine protections:
- Direct the state to adopt rules that strengthen Puget Sound protections from situations where oils submerge and sink, which are particularly difficult to clean up.
- Hire new inspectors to conduct specialized reviews of oil transfers and inspect vessels

Strengthen Protection Tools:
- Identify additional safety measures needed, including how to address the ongoing threat of increasing barge traffic and risk of new tanker traffic carrying heavy oil and tar sands (also known as like diluted bitumen).
- Conduct a cross-border summit for Salish Sea protections.

Stopping non-native Atlantic salmon farming

February 26th, 2018: HB 2957  is alive, and will likely have a Senate floor vote this week. If it passes there, it will go to Gov. Inslee's desk, and he has indicated he will sign it into law!

In August 2017, over 160,000 Atlantic Salmon from an open water net-pen operation managed by Cooke Aquaculture escaped due to a structural failure. This was a wake-up call to many in our community about the fact that these non-native salmon are being cultivated in our marine waters. Raising non-native Atlantic Salmon poses a wide range of risks — from water pollution, with the use of antibiotics and concentrated feces, to disease outbreaks that can harm our already-endangered native salmon populations.

Our neighbors in British Columbia have been struggling with these operations on a larger scale. Scientific studies underscore the damage these operations can cause on our native salmon fishing economy and fresh and marine ecosystems such as colonization and establishment, continued undocumented escapes, and more. The science is in and the risks aren’t worth taking

We support a phase out and ban of these operations as specified in SB 6086. The bill would accomplish:
  • Directing the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to prohibit the renewal and approval of new aquatic land leases for the purpose of Atlantic salmon aquaculture.
  • Implementation of the disease inspection and control program for aquaculture.
  • Requiring third-party inspections of the operations every two years during the duration of the lease phase-out. Currently, the state allows for self-inspections without clear timelines for reporting.
  • Directing the Departments of Ecology, Fish & Wildlife, and Natural Resources to resume their rule-making and guidance for aquaculture operations. They are required to use the best available science that has emerged over the last 30 years.
Act on climate (several bills below)

February 26th, 2018: The carbon pricing bill (SB 6203) is headed for a vote in the Senate this week.The Solar Fairness Act (SB 6081) passed the Senate, and is moving to the House! This will ensure that solar owners earn full credit on their electricity bill for the solar electricity they produce themselves. 

2018 is the year for meaningful climate action. Climate impacts have been felt across the state, from longer and more severe droughts impacting farmers, raging wildfires and smoke, to warmer, rising, more acidifying seas threatening coastal communities and livelihoods. Now is the time for our state to show national leadership. 

We can demonstrate what is possible by addressing climate change’s root cause – carbon pollution – and investing in a safer, healthier future for all of us. Climate-driven investments in Washington will create jobs at home and showcase our state’s talent for innovation through globally competitive clean-energy solutions while ensuring our land, air and water are healthy for future generations.

Elements of comprehensive climate action:
  • Effectively reduces carbon pollution 
  • Addressing the needs of impacted communities
  • Mitigates climate impacts by investing in clean water, healthy forests, and sustainable infrastructure
  • Invests in our state’s growing clean energy economy, creating good jobs for Washingtonians and encouraging the Innovation and creativity that we are already known for nationwide 
  • Provides protection for workers and energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses, ensuring that we do not transfer jobs and emissions to other states
A great deal of legislation regarding climate and clean energy has been introduced. We generally support the following bills, with improvements:
  • SB 6203: Governor’s carbon pricing bill
  • HB 2294 (did not pass): Aligning with goals of the Paris climate accord
  • SB 6081: Net metering for solar power
  • HB 2319: Similar to net metering
  • SB 6187: Concerning the electrification of transportation.
  • SB 6253(did not pass): Carbon-free energy standard for utilities
  • HB 2338(did not pass): Low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles.

Protecting communities from toxic pollution (SB 6422)

February 26th, 2018: SB 6422 did not move forward. The 2018 iteration of last year's HB 2182 is still under consideration. Elements of these bills could end up in Supplemental Budget bills.

The state’s Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) provides funding to clean up areas polluted by chemicals and toxics from decades of industry that are harmful to human and animal health. This funding is put to use locally for the Bellingham Waterfront and the Blaine Marina cleanups, to name a couple examples. Unfortunately, funding for MTCA is often uncertain due to the volatility of the Hazardous Substance Tax (HST) which is a tax on the importation of oil, pesticides, and other chemicals. As we’ve seen, the price of oil can drop or rise dramatically, making it difficult for budget forecasting.

Last year, we engaged the Legislature in support of HB 2182 which would stabilize MTCA funding through a tiered tax structure. HB 2182 was close to being approved last year; however, after passing the House, it never made it to the floor of the Senate for a vote before session ended. Thankfully, some key phases of toxic cleanup projects in Whatcom and Skagit were just funded with the passage of the state’s capital budget on January 18, 2018; however, many cleanup projects remain on the list and the list continues to grow. This is all the more reason to support stable funding for toxic cleanup sites.

A similar bill to last year’s HB 2182 has been introduced: SB 6422. We will continue to monitor this legislation and alert supporters when the time is right to engage our elected officials! Get updates if you don't already.

Enough water for fish, farms, and people

A growing population and climate change put stresses on our finite water resources in the Northwest: an estimated 1,000 people are moving to the Puget Sound region each week. In 2016, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision (known as the Hirst decision) that said counties must consider whether water is available — and not already spoken for by more senior users and salmon — before allowing development.

Many streams and rivers, like the Nooksack River, are not meeting water levels adequate to support salmon spawning in the summer and early fall. We see this happen year after year. Until the Hirst decision, counties were allowed to issue building permits in rural areas that were served by private wells (instead of public water) under the state’s permit-exempt well provision. Since the 1990s, counties and Ecology never examined whether these new exempt wells are negatively impacting water levels in streams or nearby senior water users.

We believe the Supreme Court’s decision was correct. We also believe that counties may not be best suited to make determinations of water availability, especially on a well-by-well basis. Instead, we support legislation that directs the Department of Ecology to assist counties on a watershed by watershed basis to determine how to allow rural development while protecting and enhancing stream levels through water-for-water mitigation.

Unfortunately, the Legislature passed a law (SB 6091) on January 18, 2018 addressing Hirst that we did not fully agree with. Whatcom County can now use this new law to issue rural building permits and subdivisions as it allows exempt wells as a source of water so long as they're below the 3,000 gallon per day limit per household while a watershed restoration plan is worked out locally. No metering is required for the new wells to verify whether they’re under the 3,000 gallon per day limit. We are concerned that this interim allowance will further degrade stream flows in the summer. This interim fix does not solve our water supply problems. We would support an interim fix of 350 gallons per day, and meters.

This effectively ignores the Supreme Court’s decision and further imperils senior water users' access to their water, as well as stream levels needed by salmon.

Finding solutions is back in local hands through the Water Resource Inventory Area 1 (WRIA) watershed management project Planning Unit. This means there will be opportunities to engage our community and local elected officials on what we want to see happen.

One great way to be involved is to join the Planning Unit’s Environmental Caucus. Membership is open to all and we meet locally every month. Contact Karlee to get more information at karleed@re-sources.org. Our next meeting is scheduled for Monday, February 12 at 3pm here at RE Sources.