Policy Vision 2020

RE Sources’ top priorities in 2020 for renewable energy, healthier streams, and clean drinking water that our local communities can help make reality.

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Just about every aspect of our lives — from the type of grocery bag we use to the cleanliness of our drinking water — touches one or more layers of national, state, county, and municipal policy. It’s a challenge to know when, where, and how people can affect change in their community. There are countless ways to exercise civic rights beyond just voting — but they aren’t always very obvious. 

Even if you feel like a small fish in a large pond when it comes to national issues, your voice can go a long way with local elected officials and public meetings.

RE Sources’ policy analysts and scientists have looked ahead and identified seven key policies we can support to protect drinking water, aid salmon, curb climate-heating greenhouse gas emissions, build out our renewable energy capacity, prepare for summer droughts, and more. To demystify the process of making good environmental policy, we’ve broken it down by…

  • An overview of what changes the public can help make reality in 2020 and beyond
  • Which layer(s) of government make the decision
  • Next steps for taking action

All these policies, which we hope you’ll advocate for with us, have one thing in common: they build local resilience. They will make us less reliant on fossil fuels, limit pollution in our water, preserve habitat and land — freeing up public resources to deal with another crisis when it happens, and protecting the natural resources that keep us thriving. 

Click a link or scroll down for information on each of RE Sources’ policy priorities, and start making a difference!

Please reach out to Karlee Deatherage, Land and Water Policy Manager, with any questions at KarleeD@re-sources.org

Table of contents

  1. Protecting Lake Whatcom Drinking Water. (Right now, you can sign our petition!)
  2. Keep Whatcom’s shorelines safe from climate impacts and degradation
  3. Protect trees to absorb climate pollution and restore habitats
  4. Use vital water resources more efficiently
  5. Reduce single-use plastic waste in Bellingham
  6. Wind for Whatcom
  7. Clean energy for our buildings
Protecting Lake Whatcom Drinking Water

Take action: Sign our petition to the City of Bellingham urging bold action and preventative measures to keep drinking water safe and affordable.

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Government(s): City of Bellingham, Whatcom County

Overview: 

Lake Whatcom, the source of the majority of Whatcom County resident’s drinking water, faces an onslaught of threats

  • Oil leaks from cars and boats,
  • Pesticides on home gardens and forestry activities,
  • Leaking septic systems could release pharmaceuticals and other chemicals,
  • Bacteria and pet waste,
  • Phosphorus, a nutrient in fertilizers and pet waste that causes algae to grow in excess, choking out other species in the water,
  • Invasive species hitching rides on boats. One single invasive mussel could rapidly reproduce, causing millions of dollars in repairs to property and the city’s water system.

Pollution of Lake Whatcom is not improving, making drinking water treatment more costly, and the byproducts from treatment — like chlorine — unhealthier for people to consume. Water treatment and lake restoration will only get more costly the longer we wait.

Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham already have a good path forward to address phosphorus entering the Lake as required by the Clean Water Act; however, we are stepping up to ask them to close loopholes, take bold action, and address other pollution threats to the Lake and our health.

What should be improved:

  • Increase investments in water quality testing for carcinogenic fossil fuel compounds from boats and cars (known as benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene or BTEX), and common pesticides such as glyphosate,
  • Reduce the risk of introducing destructive invasive species by closing public boat launch sites with a gate when the inspection program is not operating,
  • Ask Whatcom County to contribute to the City of Bellingham’s Land Acquisition program, which prevents unchecked development,
  • Strengthen Whatcom County’s Lake Whatcom Watershed Overlay to reduce phosphorus pollution by requiring pervious pavement, limits on lawns for new development and some re-development, and no new septic systems.
  • Improve tree protection rules in the County and City land use codes (see “Protect trees” priority below),
  • Reduce urban sprawl in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

Next Steps: We’re keeping tabs on this issue and will let you know in our email newsletter when you can help move the needle. Expect to take action in summer or early fall.

Read more about Lake Whatcom

Photo: John D’Onofrio

Keep Whatcom’s shorelines safe from climate impacts and degradation

Government(s): Whatcom County

Overview: Whatcom County is updating its rules governing activities within 200 feet of any type of shoreline — seashores, lakes, rivers, streams, and some wetlands. If you do the math, that represents a huge portion of our coastal home. Shorelines filter toxic substances from rain runoff. They are on the front lines of protecting homes, businesses and habitat — preventing erosion and moderating the impacts from flooding and storm surges. These unique areas where land and water meet need better protection under the county’s Shoreline Management Program (SMP), a 50-year-old policy that has prevented our shorelines from looking like this. Given the impacts of storm surges and sea level rise from climate change, this update is crucial to make sure we are planning for the worst and saving everyone heartbreak and money.

What should be improved:

  • Develop policies regarding climate change and sea level rise, including incorporating more recent data, to review and revise shoreline use regulations.
  • Reference the State’s Shore Friendly Program.
  • Strengthen ecological connectivity and wildlife corridor requirements.
  • Improve protection for salmon and forage fish habitat.
  • Revise any policies or regulations pertaining to the Cherry Point area.
  • Provide incentives to enhance Fish & Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas.
  • Include language and policies regarding the importance of Lake Whatcom as the source of drinking water for most of the County and also the water quality improvement plan.
  • Include an update to the Comprehensive Plan that adds a new section to the Natural Resources Chapter on Marine Resource Lands.
  • Prohibit gravel bar mining directly in creeks and rivers.

Next Steps: Whatcom County will release the proposed changes of the SMP before the end of the year with anticipated adoption sometime in 2021. Join us in attending open houses on the proposed changes and also asking the Whatcom County Planning Commission and Council to support or make amendments as needed to be protective of climate impacts and degradation.

Photo: Brett Baunton

Protect trees to absorb climate pollution and restore habitats

Government(s): Whatcom County, City of Bellingham

Overview: Trees are the bee’s knees. They do everything from storing carbon, soaking up water during the wet season and releasing water back to the ground and streams in the dry season, to providing habitat, and keeping urban areas cool in the summer. Unfortunately, trees and forested areas are often removed in Whatcom County and its cities without any efforts to replant or replace the lost benefits we’d otherwise get for free.

Between 2006 and 2011, Whatcom County lost 12,011 acres of canopy cover, according to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife. With a tree protection ordinance in place, we’ll slow the loss of mature trees and be more resilient to the impacts that accompany climate change.

What should be improved:

  • Requires a permit for all tree removal for development and non-development actions. All permits are tracked in a publicly available database,
  • Discourages removal of established natives trees (24” diameter breast-height or greater) by requiring either replanting onsite of native vegetation at a 2:1 ratio or payment to the Tree Replacement & Preservation Fund,
  • Provides exemptions for hazard tree removal. Hazard trees must be displaying signs of disease, decay, rot, or damage to the trunk,
  • Requires certified arborists and tree specialists to sign-off on the tree protection requirements before conducting work,
  • Creates a Tree Replacement & Preservation Fund for when property owners are unable to replant trees onsite that were removed from their property. The fund will be used to pay for reforestation efforts within the watershed sub-basin of where trees were removed. Trees must be planted in areas conducive to reforestation,
  • Provides exemptions for Rural Forestry, Commercial Forestry, and Agriculture zones.

Next Steps: We’re keeping tabs on this issue and will let you know in our email newsletter when you can help move the needle.

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Use vital water resources more efficiently

Government bodies: Whatcom County, Whatcom Conservation District, Ag Water Board

Overview: Whatcom County and our community can be leaders in drought preparedness and climate change. The climate crisis is already fueling worse summer droughts and highly-damaging floods in the rainy season. Not to mention efficient water use saves you money on electrical costs and water distribution!

Unlike other counties in the state, Whatcom County does not have a coordinated water efficiency and conservation program. Agriculture, the largest water user in the county, also has no requirement to save water. And outdated “use it or lose it” water laws discourage farms from using water as efficiently as they could. This is a huge problem especially given that snow will melt earlier in the season to further impact streamflows, the growing season, and salmon habitat.

What should be improved:

  • Whatcom County or the Whatcom Conservation District could create a residential water conservation program. More funding from Whatcom County or the WCD may be required during the budgeting process. This program must include an appliance rebate offer.
  • Whatcom Conservation District could establish a water conservation program for farmers. This includes rebates for efficient irrigation equipment or a low or zero interest loan program. More funding from Whatcom County or the WCD may be required during the budgeting process.
  • Whatcom County, Whatcom Conservation District, or the Ag Water Board could create a water exchange for farmers. A water exchange would allow farmers with excess water rights (or farmers using water rights more efficiently) to lease them to downstream farmers that may need more water rights to cover irrigation needs for their crops.

Next Steps: We’re keeping tabs on this issue and will let you know in our email newsletter when you can help move the needle. Expect to take action in summer or early fall 2020.

Reduce single-use plastic waste in Bellingham

Government(s): City of Bellingham

Overview: One small group of people picking up trash on Bellingham’s beaches can regularly collect hundreds of pounds of plastics in a single outing. Plastic left in our waters has broken down and seeped into everything from drinking water to table salt and craft beer. We have the opportunity to use smarter alternatives — like compostable and reusable containers and utensils — and still keep some plastics on hand for those who need them.

Let’s make throwaway plastics the exception, not the rule. Bellingham can replace most of its water- and climate-polluting plastics made from fossil fuels with compostable or reusable containers. Over 30 municipalities across the state have passed ordinances in some form to address plastics. So can we!

What should be improved:

We’re asking the City of Bellingham to pass a single-use plastics ordinance that…

  • Phases out most types of single use plastic food service products (plates, utensils, bowls, etc.),
  • Gives people who need certain plastic items the ability to request them,
  • Require dine-in restaurants to offer washable dishes instead of disposable,
  • Put limits on the distribution of certain single use personal care products at hotels.

Next steps:

Bellingham City Council has introduced an ordinance to reduce single-use plastic and encourage reusable utensils and containers. A public hearing is expected but is now on hold due to the City’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. We’re tracking the ordinance and will let you know in our email newsletter when you can help move the needle. Expect to take action by summer or fall 2020.

Photo: Richard G. Hawley, used by CC-BY-2.0

Wind for Whatcom

Government(s): Whatcom County

Overview: Did you know it’s pretty much impossible to build out wind power in Whatcom, even though it’s a vital part of a local clean energy transition?

We support an ordinance to revise county code rules for wind energy production facility siting. Whatcom County adopted an overly restrictive wind code in 2009, effectively banning wind turbines in all viable areas except the Cherry Point industrial zone. The Clean Energy Transition will require distributed energy resource development across broad geographies, including here, where we have a moderately adequate wind resource for power production in many locations.

What should be improved: Coming soon

Next steps: Sign on to our petition, coming soon, asking Whatcom County to make wind power a part of Northwest Washington’s energy future. Stay tuned for updates in our e-news and Action Alerts on how to support wind power locally!

Clean Energy for our buildings

Government(s): City of Bellingham

Overview: Did you know the largest share of Bellingham’s climate pollution is from fracked (“natural”) gas — a climate-warming fossil fuel extracted by fracking?

Thanks to advances in renewable technologies like solar and wind, and electric appliances like heat pumps, we now have cleaner alternatives for heating our homes and water that are cheaper and more reliable than fracked gas — without the methane leaks, fires, and fracking. The climate crisis necessitates that we transition from using gas in buildings to using better, more efficient, less costly electric heating technologies powered by renewables.

What should be improved: 

  • All new buildings should be designed with efficient electric heating
  • Existing buildings — when it’s time to replace appliances — should install electric heating such as heat pumps and induction stoves
  • Choosing electric can lower the cost of living and utility bills for residents. Upfront costs for conversion can be assisted with subsidies, incentives, and on-bill financing.
  • Our electricity sources must be zero-carbon by 2030
  • We can make progress toward our goals through voluntary choices and commitments, but reaching 100% will require changes to state & municipal laws, policies and funding, sustained over many years.

Next steps: Sign up for our e-news and Action Alerts to get ways to support going all-electric locally!

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