Memorial Day Legislative Update
The Washington State Legislature concluded its "regular” legislative session on April 28 with mixed results on environmental issues. Unfortunately, legislators were unable to come to agreement on a state budget, which resulted in Governor Inslee calling a “special” session that will stretch into mid-June. The Sierra Club has been hard at work throughout, defending against a number of bills which would have dismantled state water laws as well as promoting legislation to reduce climate impacts. Here is a brief overview of our work thus far.
The Sierra Club helped lead efforts to defeat a series of bills which would have reduced state and local oversight of water use by developers. Sadly, across the state we are experiencing water shortages that threaten both salmon and water supplies for communities. One of the greatest problems is the proliferation of “permit exempt” wells which developers have increasingly relied on to avoid state review of projects to determine the potential that these projects have to drain streams and reduce water supplies. In a series of recent decisions, the courts have reigned in developers who attempt to avoid state and local review of projects. Several bills introduced this year would have reversed those decisions. Fortunately, those bills were defeated.
The legislature is struggling mightily to develop a new "Transportation Revenue Package” that would fund a series of road “mega projects” as well as provide funding for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects. The Sierra Club has the lone voice in this debate raising questions about climate impacts associated with the large new road projects that comprise half the package. Transportation remains the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions in this state, but to date there is little or no consideration of climate impacts when these projects are designed and funded.
We’ve argued for more investment in the repair of existing roads rather than expansion of new roads. We also continue to argue for better, smarter project designs, which reduce sprawl development and climate impacts. While a proposal developed in the House at the end of regular session provided more funding for transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects, we remain concerned several highway projects in the package would cause great harm. A major challenge of the special session is to get the Legislature to pass local option authority for transit systems like Metro, Community Transit, or Pierce Transit so they may raise revenue in their districts to avoid further severe service cuts. Such local authority can, and we believe should, be passed separate from the “revenue package.”
The Chapter also worked with Representative Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle) to introduce an environmental justice bill, HB 1438, to help protect low income and other vulnerable communities from disproportionate public health impacts that they often face. The bill is designed to reduce barriers that often prevent people in these areas from becoming meaningfully involved in complex environmental regulatory decisions. While the bill did not advance this year, we remain determined to keep this issue front and center as we enter the legislature next year. On a positive note, Governor Inslee spearheaded an effort to pass climate legislation this year, SB 5802, which lays the groundwork for an examination of strategies to reduce climate impacts here in Washington State. More to come on this topic!