What we gained during Washington’s first virtual legislative session

A roundup of the wins, losses and silver linings after a three-month, remote Washington 2021 legislative session. | April 29, 2021

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From the get-go, we knew Washington’s 2021 legislative session would be unlike any other. Remote session aside, state lawmakers made big moves to further slash carbon emissions by adding Washington as the final West Coast state to enact clean fuel standard and pollution pricing; incorporate environmental justice into state actions; begin cutting our dependence on single use plastics; and address water rights uncertainty in the Nooksack River watershed by kicking off an adjudication process.

It’s hard to get everything you want in one session. Not all of our environmental priorities made it to the finish line, namely anything strengthening the Growth Management Act (GMA), our state’s framework for managing population growth in cities and counties. Thankfully, we are on good footing to begin 2022 on that front — lawmakers allocated funding in the operating budget to look into salmon recovery and incorporating climate change into the GMA.

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What important bills made the cut (or didn’t)?

Protecting the Salish Sea and Freshwater Restoration

(Links to proposed bills in parentheses)

  • Nooksack River adjudication funding (SB 5092 / HB 1094). Included in the final 2021-2023 operating budget! Water rights in the Nooksack River watershed have been in disarray for decades. Knowing exactly who has rights to how much water is a vital baseline for making choices about this shared resource. Funding is needed to start the initial work before an adjudication can commence.
  • Preventing cuts to the environment. No cuts were made to environmental programs and priorities in the operating or capital budgets! We don’t want a repeat of the 2009 through 2012 legislative sessions where significant budget cuts were made to programs that protect the air we breathe and water we drink from pollution and slow down the pace of salmon habitat restoration.
  • Recover salmon and orca by restoring habitat through net ecological gain (HB 1117). This bill did not advance. Nature filters out pollution, stores greenhouse gases, and uses intact shorelines to limit the damage of floods and storms — all for free! Net ecological gain is a concept that requires development to rebuild natural functions it impacts through restoration of wetlands and shorelines. The Legislature funded an effort to define and determine how to achieve net ecological gain in 2020; however, the funding was returned due to pandemic response and uncertainty around revenue forecasts.
    • SILVER LINING: While this bill did not advance this legislative session, funding in the 2021-2023 operating budget is allocated for the state to publish a report to the legislature by December 2022 on how to achieve net ecological gain.
  • Restoring waterways and protecting drinking water from PFAS contamination (SJM 8001). This measure did not advance. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, persist in the environment for long periods of time. These chemicals are linked to health problems in people and animals. Firefighting foam with PFAS has been found in drinking water wells near naval air stations. This Joint Memorial (SJM) called on the federal government to coordinate with the state and assist in monitoring and mitigating PFAS pollution in waterways.
Clean Energy
  • Create a Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1091). Passed the legislature! Cuts climate pollution from the transportation sector, incentivizing electric vehicles and lower-carbon intensity fuels.
  • Healthy Homes, Clean Buildings (HB 1084 / SB 5093, Governor request). This bill did not advance. A systematic plan to phase out the use of fossil fuels for indoor heating by setting standards for new construction, making investments in electrification, and ensuring justice in the transition for energy users and for workers. Fracked gas (a.k.a. natural gas) has been the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions since the 1990’s. In Washington state, homes and buildings emit more than one-fourth of all our climate pollution. Learn more about the importance of going 100% electric in our buildings as soon as possible.
    • SILVER LINING: Despite this bill not passing, the legislature created a new program for the Department of Commerce called “Investing in Washington’s Clean Energy”, investing $156 million in the capital budget. Of that funding, $10 million will go toward jumpstarting the transition of homes fueled by gas to electricity, $4.75 million for rural clean energy innovation grants, and $4.9 million to electrify the maritime industry, among other clean energy research and efficiency projects.
  • Washington STRONG Act (SB 5373). This bill did not advance. A resilient recovery program that would have generated at least $16 billion over 10 years to accelerate our transition to a clean economy and create more than 100,000 local, family-wage jobs.
    • We are disappointed WA Strong did not advance this session. This bill received support from both rural communities and frontline communities impacted by pollution. The final version of the Climate Commitment Act (SB 5126; known as Cap & Invest) does include provisions to address some concerns from frontline communities about Cap & Trade programs by requiring air pollution monitoring in communities located near emitting facilities and evaluating whether or not to grant caps based on levels of pollution. However, those evaluations take place after the fact rather than in advance based on historical emissions data. One important aspect to keep in mind is this law is dependent upon passage of a comprehensive transportation package next session. Without a transportation package agreement in 2022, all work on Cap & Invest will pause.
  • Support Community Solar programs (HB 1046). This bill did not advance. Would create a functional community solar program with virtual net metering for utility ratepayers investing in offsite solar panels.
    • SILVER LINING: In the capital budget, $11 million has been allocated to the Department of Commerce to facilitate energy efficiency and solar grant program that prioritizes community solar projects.
The #ResilientFuture Platform of the Climate Alliance for Jobs & Clean Energy:
  • Environmental justice: HEAL Act (Healthy Environment for All, SB 5141). Passed the legislature! Defines environmental justice across state agencies, requires internal agency action plans to incorporate environmental justice, creates an Environmental Justice Council and Office of Environmental Justice Ombuds, and requires agencies to use an environmental justice analysis for major decisions.
  • Buy Clean Buy Fair (HB 1103). This bill did not advance. Establishes reporting requirements on the carbon content of structural materials, and the labor conditions at production facilities, purchased for public works.
    • SILVER LINING: This bill ended up inspiring the creation of a new Buy Clean Buy Fair database and reporting system for building materials for state projects in the operating budget.
  • Incorporate climate change into growth plans (WA Can’t Wait, HB 1099). This bill did not advance. The Growth Management Act (GMA) is well overdue for revisions to incorporate climate change. WA Can’t Wait legislation would direct counties and cities to reduce transportation sector emissions through vehicle miles traveled (VMT), require climate adaptation planning (address impacts resulting from sea level rise, wildfires, smoke, drought, and more), and include an environmental justice element into Comprehensive Plans.
    • SILVER LINING: Funds have been allocated in the operating budget for the state to create guidance for counties and cities to reduce carbon pollution and adapt to the impacts of climate change by directing growth away from rising seas, wildfire risk, flooding, drought, and more. This guidance will set the stage to pass HB 1099 next legislative session!
Ending Waste
    • Reducing Plastic Pollution and Improving Recycling (SB 5022). Passed the legislature! Requires plastic beverage containers to contain a minimum of 15% post-consumer recycled plastic by weight by 2023, 25% by 2026, and 50% by 2031. Plastic utensils, straws, and lids are only provided on demand by food service businesses. The bill also incorporates a ban on Styrofoam packing peanuts, coolers and take-out clamshells for sale or distribution in Washington.
Other notable bills for the environment
  • Zero emission vehicles (HB 1287): increases vehicle charging infrastructure and sets a goal to prevent the sale of fossil fuel powered vehicles in Washington by 2030.
  • Prohibition of seabed mining (SB 5145): prohibits the extraction of hard minerals in Washington’s marine waters in Puget Sound and the outer coast.
  • Greywater recycling (HB 1184): directs the Department of Health to adopt rules allowing the use of greywater reuse systems on homes and businesses.
  • Taking action to prevent lead in school drinking water (HB 1139): directs schools to work with the Department of Health to test for lead and other contaminants and create action plans to correct contaminant exceedances.
  • Fluorinated gases (HB 1050): Sets standards, reduces leaks, and sets procurement guidelines to reduce emissions from potent fluorinated gases.
  • Urban and community forestry (HB 1216): requires the Department of Natural Resources to identify priority areas for urban forestry projects based on health disparities and salmon recovery needs and provides technical assistance for local governments to accomplish such projects.
  • Replacement of shoreline armoring (SB 5273): requires property owners seeking to replace existing shoreline armoring such as bulkheads and seawalls to identify the least impactful solution to forage fish and salmon habitat.
  • Housing affordability in the Growth Management Act (HB 1220): creates a goal for affordable housing in the GMA and requires local governments to accommodate transitional housing and designate certain percentages of low income housing.
  • Wildfire funding for prevention and management (HB 1168): creates a new funding account for the prevention, preparedness, and response to wildfires and updates the state’s forest health inventory.
  • Streamlining salmon recovery projects (HB 1382): creates a pilot project to exempt salmon recovery projects from certain permitting processes.

For a comprehensive list of all environmental bills that passed and did not advance this session, visit our bill tracker.