7 key laws passed in the WA legislature this year

It wasn't a slam dunk for the environment and communities, but we should recognize what gains our state made at the end of the 2020 lawmaking session, even amid the developing COVID-19 crisis. | March 23, 2020

Be a legislative champion

In January, state lawmakers kicked off a breakneck speed, 60-day session to pass laws, culminating in the coronavirus pandemic that’s affecting every single one of us. Hundreds of engaged Washingtonians like you sent over 2,000 messages to our Senators and Representatives in Olympia asking for action and thanking them when they listened. It truly made a difference.

We built upon successes from last year to further a healthy and thriving environment for people, salmon, orcas, and wildlife. Lawmakers incentivized commercial property owners to upgrade their buildings to be more energy and water efficient. They also put a stop to the highly destructive practice of suction dredge mining in creeks and rivers that support habitat for endangered fish. And to wrap up the session, they addressed critical community needs like housing, homelessness, and funding for the COVID-19 emergency response.

Our analysis: New climate policy and what it means for Northwest Washington

Watch this presentation Karlee Deatherage, RE Sources Land & Water Policy Manager, who will go over a few major environmental wins from this year’s legislative session and what they mean for our communities and local environment. The presentation is 40 minutes long, with 10 minutes of Q & A.


Here’s an overview of environmental bills and budget items that passed

Check out our bill tracker for a more comprehensive list of environmental bills.

  • Reusable bag act (SB 5323) – starting January 1, 2021, grocery stores and retailers will be prohibited from providing a customer a single-use plastic carryout bag. Retailers must charge $0.08 when providing a reusable plastic film bag or paper bag. Beginning January 1, 2026, the fee will be raised to $0.12. Fees are not charged for people using federal and/or state benefits. The fee helps smaller mom-and-pop stores adapt to the change.
  • Drought preparedness and response (HB 1622) – provides flexibility to allow the state to issue a drought advisory rather than declare a drought, provides the ability to issue grants for drought preparedness work rather than just drought response, and directs Department of Ecology to initiate a pilot program to explore the cost, feasibility, and benefits of long-term water right lease agreements.
  • Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy & Resilience (CPACER) Financing (HB 2405) – creates a program financed by capital providers and administered by counties or the Department of Commerce, for energy resilience efficiency retrofits and new construction. The financing is tied to the building rather than the owner.
  • Suction dredge mining reform (HB 1261) – prohibits suction dredge mining on rivers that support endangered fish species and requires clean water permits to operate suction dredge mining equipment where the activity is not prohibited.
  • Greenhouse gas limits (HB 2311) – modifies state greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction limits and state agency reduction targets, requires state government as a whole to achieve net zero GHG emissions by 2050, requires state agencies to report biannually on short and long-term strategies for meeting emissions reduction targets, and requires all state agencies to seek opportunities to maximize carbon sequestration and carbon storage in their non-land management agency operations, contracting, and grant-making.
  • Zero emission vehicle standards (SB 5811) – authorizes Department of Ecology to adopt California Zero-Emission Vehicle Program regulations, expands the types of vehicles required to meeting California standards to include medium duty vehicles, and expands the types of vehicles on which a manufacturer is required to affix a label that discloses comparative greenhouse gas emissions for that new vehicle to include medium duty vehicles.
  • Sustainable farms and fields grant program (SB 5947) – requires the Department of Agriculture to develop a sustainable farms and fields grant program that makes activities eligible for funding such as on-farm fossil fuel input efficiency measures, agroforestry, and carbon farming.
What else was funded?
  • $27 million allocated to the Department of Fish & Wildlife to fill a budget deficit that has not been addressed since the 2008 recession. This covers funding for programs that are critical for salmon, orcas, and other wildlife and their respective habitats.
  • $140,000 to hire an orca recovery coordinator in the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office to continue the oversight and implementation of orca recovery efforts from the Orca Task Force.
  • $535,000 for nutrient controls in Puget Sound.
  • $748,000 for Puget Sound freshwater monitoring of large rivers.
  • $750,000 for stormwater local source control programs to address stormwater hotspots in Puget Sound.
  • Creation of a water rights and transfers work group by the Department of Ecology. A report will be due to the legislature on how to reform water transfers by December 1, 2020.
  • $1 million for the Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Riparian Easement Program.
  • $2.249 million in matching dollars for the Federal Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
  • $225,000 to increase Fish & Wildlife’s vessel patrol program to protect orcas.
  • $134,000 in 2020 and again in 2021 for Community Solar Projects through Washington State University. Vetoed by Gov. Inslee, April 3rd.
  • $90,000 in 2020 and $166,000 in 2021 to publish a report by December 1, 2020 for the legislature on how to incorporate a net ecological gain standard in land use regulations to improve salmon habitat.
  • $350,000 to establish a work group and publish a report by December 1, 2020 for the legislature on how to update the Growth Management Act to incorporate climate change and other recommendations from the 2019 Road Map to Washington’s Future report. Vetoed by Gov. Inslee, April 3rd.
  • $142,000 is provided to address fish passage barriers, including data analysis and mapping to identify streams and barriers that have the greatest potential benefit to ESA-listed salmon populations, orcas, and fisheries.
  • $783,000 in emergency funding to respond to invasive Green Crab that have plagued the North Sound.
  • Creation of a new Climate Resilience Account with the deposit of $50 million. A list of prioritized projects for this account will be submitted to the Governor and legislature by November 1, 2020 to be considered for funding from the account in 2021. Vetoed by Gov. Inslee, April 3rd.

Each passing year makes cutting climate pollution and restoring the ailing Salish Sea more urgent. Also at the top of our list in 2021: Water access, salmon habitat, and planning for growth in the face of a changing climate.

You can join the efforts alongside over 400 community members on our Legislative Action Team. We’ll send you updates just before the next lawmaking session.

As we all spend more time by ourselves in the coming weeks, all of us at RE Sources thank you for taking some time to appreciate what we can accomplish together — and what we must push harder on.