Historic victories in a historically challenging year: What we won in 2021

In such a blur of a year, it’s important to remember the ways we made this region better. | December 14, 2021

Support our 2022 work

“This is not normal.” How many times did we utter that in 2021? Through a year of compounding crises unfolding before our eyes, we kept our vision for a thriving, climate-resilient Northwest Washington in front of us and found power through education, individual action and systemic change. In such a blur of a year, it’s important to remember the ways we made this region better. What we accomplished together in the face of it all is cause for celebration.

Milestone victories

  1. Permanently prohibited new fossil fuel refineries, piers and transshipment facilities at Cherry Point. After years of advocacy from thousands of RE Sources supporters to limit fossil fuel growth at Cherry Point, Whatcom County became one of the first refinery communities in the U.S. to permanently prohibit new fossil fuel refineries, piers, and transshipment facilities. These regulations protect our local communities and the environment, and could usher in a new era of fossil fuel policymaking in the U.S., at time when the U.S. must swiftly transition to renewable energy sources.
  2. Successfully urged the City of Bellingham to require that all new commercial and large multifamily buildings (i.e. apartment complexes) use electricity for space and water heating, an important step in curbing our use of methane gas for heat — which is a must, both for the climate and our health (did you know that homes with gas stoves are unhealthier for children?). The City Council is expected to pass this rule in early 2022. RE Sources and supporters have pushed for going 100% clean energy locally for several years, advocating for Whatcom County’s 2017 goal of 100% clean energy and establishment of the Climate Impact Advisory Committee, and in 2018 getting Bellingham City Council to commit to 100% renewables by the 2030s. This would not have been possible without a groundswell of support from the community.
  3. Advocated for state funding for a vital water rights study—called an adjudication—in the Nooksack River watershed, where water rights and use have been undetermined  for decades. Knowing exactly who has rights to how much water is a vital baseline for making choices about this shared resource and protecting salmon, agricultural needs and treaty-protected fishing rights.
  4. Mobilized almost 400 supporters to help pass the Whatcom Climate Action Plan, a crucial tool for making progress on local projects that would have impacts on (or be impacted by) climate change. Many counties don’t have CAPs, or have very outdated ones, so this helps establish Whatcom as a regional climate leader.
  5. Succeeded in urging the Department of Ecology to set better pollution standards for 58 of Washington’s wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the Salish Sea. These plants are collectively the biggest human source of Puget Sound’s excess nutrient pollution problem, leading to toxic algae blooms and habitat degradation. The new permit standards go into effect January 1st.
  6. Supported the Bellingham City Council in passing a strong policy to cut single-use plastics city-wide—even stronger than state plastic rules. Bags and polystyrenes are among the most common items we find at beach cleanups.

Launched three new initiatives

  1. Our education specialists started the Green Team Network, helping students identify the areas where their schools can reduce their impacts on the environment by providing the knowledge and tools needed to develop and implement student-chosen, student-led sustainability projects.
  2. Launched our Climate-Resilient Northwest Washington initiative highlighted by a multimedia StoryMap. On the heels of a summer punctuated by climate change-fueled heat waves, and just ahead of devastating fall flooding across our region, this interactive guide tells the story of how we can make bold investments in natural solutions, which help our communities withstand and bounce back from the climate change effects that are increasingly pummeling northwest Washington.
  3. Launched a new volunteer opportunity as part of North Sound Stewards, our community science program, called Beach Stewards. We train people to talk with beach visitors on busy summer days about tidal life and offers tips on taking care of the high-traffic, fragile places on which our wildlife and our tourism economy rely.

More ways we made a difference together

Climate Action
  1. Helped pass several vital bills in the Washington state legislature such as: Funding for a vital water rights study (an adjudication) in the Nooksack River; setting a Clean Fuel Standard; better incorporating environmental justice in decisionmaking with the HEAL Act (Healthy Environment for All); and more. Community members on our Legislative Action Team contacted Washington State lawmakers 3,700 times.
  2. Published our series exposing the problems with gas and the benefits of using electric appliances instead. Read: We’ve got to deal with our methane problem  | How clean is natural gas?  |  Overview of gas vs. electric appliances  |  5 reasons renewable natural gas isn’t the future
  3. Relaunched monthly Climate Activist Meetings following the Cherry Point land use code amendments victory. Historically composed of longtime activists in the effort to protect Cherry Point from increased fossil fuel impacts, this year’s meetings attracted dozens of new folks as we work on the next frontiers of local climate- and clean energy action.
  4. Advocated for pausing a County agreement that would have given gas pipelines an automatic green light to continue business as usual for 25 more years — which is far too long, since the fossil fuel industry and our renewable energy systems are undergoing historic changes right now. Thank you to the 250 people who added their voices. In early 2022, the Council will consider changes to the 25-year-old agreement with Cascade Natural Gas that we’d otherwise be locked into.
  5. Successfully pushed for increasing investments in conservation and climate resilience through the Conservation Futures Fund, raising roughly $100,000 additional funding per year for Whatcom County to protect valuable open spaces as our region grows and changes. Beloved natural places like Stimpson Nature Preserve and Chuckanut Mountain exist for the public because of this fund.
Protecting the Salish Sea, Freshwater Restoration and Pollution Prevention
  1. Systematically collected water quality data on dozens of local waterways that no other entity is monitoring closely, creating a baseline of data that can be used to address pollution as our region changes over time.
  2. Conducted weekly patrols of dozens of local waterways to watch for sources of pollution, helping clean up contamination and reporting pollution violations to ensure safe water for people and wildlife. Our Pollution Prevention Specialist Kirsten McDade also responds to community members who call our pollution hotline, (360) 220-0556, and works with local agencies to make sure that potential pollution is remedied as needed.
  3. Sent 38 community scientists into the field to track changes in shoreline species populations and habitat health. Their data helps inform natural resource management agencies’ plans to protect cherished species like sea stars, herring, bull kelp and more. Our North Sound Stewards program is seeking volunteers for 2022 — why not give it a try?
  4. Held our annual Cherry Point Science Forum in October, where dozens of people learned about local Salish Sea research. Scientists talked about marine mammals and the implications of the summer heat wave, along with longer-term patterns of environmental change in our coastal marine ecosystems.
  5. Dozens of supporters held meetings with state representatives and senators to talk about priority legislation that would end harmful seabed mining, help clarify legal water rights, safely reuse gray water and more as part of a virtual Water Lobby Week.
  6. Researched and gave input on 50+ regulatory updates and permit applications that could have environmental or health impacts, such as proposals for logging projects and oil refinery infrastructure.
  7. Cleaned nearly 3,000 pounds of trash from beaches, rivers and lakes across 14 cleanups.
  8. Held three in-person tours and two virtual tours of the 12 historically contaminated cleanup sites along Bellingham’s waterfront. Participants learned about past industries’ impacts on the Bay and how community comment is a key part of the Department of Ecology’s cleanup process.
Sustainable Schools

It was a big year for our education specialists, who revamped the Sustainable Schools program’s offering to focus more on helping students and teachers build agency to make a difference.

  1. Helped lead Whatcom County’s biggest-ever year for climate education through the state’s ClimeTime program. We equipped 86 teachers with tools to incorporate climate impacts affecting Washington communities into their lessons and classrooms.
  2. Engaged 42 teachers in additional professional development workshops designed to help them teach about food waste and pollution, and bring action projects into their classrooms.
  3. Students in our Youth for the Environment and People (YEP!) program developed leadership skills by organizing and promoting two tree-planting volunteer work parties in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. YEP! expanded to 9th-12th graders in Skagit County for the first time in partnership with North Cascades Institute.
  4. Helped 615 fifth graders take on action projects including caring for a storm drain in their neighborhood or school grounds, litter cleanups, and art projects educating others on water conservation and stormwater pollution as part of the Bellingham Water School program.
The RE Store and Thriving Communities
  1. Hosted Environmental Heroes with Representative Debra Lekanoff and Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest. At the virtual gathering, we celebrated 2021 Heroes Darrell Hillaire, Mary Ruth Holder and London Fletcher while raising critical funds for RE Sources’ work.
  2. The RE Store’s Community Jobs Training Program welcomed 10 interns and trainees, hosted 26 volunteers, and provided 11 trial work experiences for adults with disabilities. Together, they racked up over 1,900 hours of training and work experience.
  3. The RE Store offset 313 metric tons of carbon through its programs this year.
  4. The Revision Division of The RE Store built 441 pieces of hand-crafted furniture and home furnishings from reclaimed and used building materials.
  5. Salvaged 422,393 pounds of material for reuse so it didn’t go to landfills, thanks to The RE Store Salvage Crew’s careful deconstruction work. The Store’s Manufacturing Waste Diversion Program also diverted 57,413 pounds of manufacturing byproduct from landfills.
  6. The RE Store joined the PaintCare paint reuse and recycling program and became their newest paint drop-off center. This program accepts unwanted paint at drop-off centers (like us!) around the country and makes the paint available for reuse and remanufacturing by organizations like MetroPaint.
  7. Launched the Revision Division Design Build Training Institute, which teaches upcycled design and carpentry to underserved individuals and students. To date, the new program has trained four participants who have built over 30 pieces.

Each of these accomplishments was only possible through the support of people like you. When enough of us speak up and take action on behalf of our environment, our climate and our communities, good things happen. It isn’t easy though. It takes time and money to stay informed, watchdog environmental threats, hold decision makers accountable and propose sound solutions. Please consider a year-end gift as an investment in a better tomorrow, and have it matched dollar for dollar. We’re poised to do so much more in 2021 with your support and collaboration.

(Photo by Buff Black)