2022 Legislative Session Recap
The 60-day session of the Washington State legislature wrapped up with some victories for birds and some important policies that didn’t make the cut.
Clean Energy and Climate Resilience
Audubon Washington had two climate priorities this session: incorporating climate change in our state’s Growth Management Act (GMA), and promoting an equitable buildout of well-sited solar energy.
HB 1099 – a disappointing loss. This year’s legislative session was a critical deadline for updating the GMA before comprehensive planning for the next decade begins. HB 1099, which we’ve worked on diligently for multiple sessions, passed out of both chambers of the legislature but died when the House ran out of time to agree to late-session changes in the bill. This is a major disappointment, causing advocates for climate resilience planning to regroup and consider next steps.
HB 1814 – Our efforts helped it pass. This bill creates a new low-income solar incentive program with precedent-setting language defining ‘preferred sites’ in state law. This bill will bring the benefits of solar energy to vulnerable communities and protect birds from solar development by guiding projects toward buildings, parking lots, and other places that don’t displace wildlife habitat or prime farmland.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Sharon Shewmake, deserves special praise for stewarding this bill through a very challenging legislative session.
Sustainable Farms and Fields, a climate-smart farming grant program that the Audubon network helped to create, received 2 million dollars in the supplemental operating budget. These funds will support the technical assistance, education, and outreach needed to make this new program a success.
SB 5885, our priority bill for protecting Puget Sound coastline, didn’t make it across the finish line this year. One major impediment to healthy shorelines is the presence of countless (truly, uncounted) structures like bulkheads and rock walls that destroy critical habitat for forage fish, threatening species like the Rhinoceros Auklet who rely on them. SB 5885 would have provided a comprehensive assessment of our shoreline conditions, to get a more accurate estimate of unpermitted and derelict structures that are negatively impacting our shores.
This bill was a casualty of attacks from opponents who expressed concerns about the potential for enforcement actions against illegal and environmentally harmful structures. While this legislation didn’t pass, it’s imperative that we stay engaged and demonstrate broad public support for habitat recovery in Puget Sound.
SB 5619 passed. This legislation calls on the Department of Natural Resources to develop a plan to conserve and restore 10,000 acres of native kelp and eelgrass beds by 2040. This is a win for species who rely on those ecosystems.
Sageland birds will be safer thanks to an important budget win: Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) secured funding for new staff to help them respond to the major influx of solar projects in the Columbia Plateau. This additional staffing will allow DFW to effectively manage our growing demand for clean energy, and ensure these projects are well-sited, protecting sagebrush birds like the Sage Thrasher and Greater Sage-grouse.
Another success was maintained funding for Washington State University’s least conflict solar siting process.
HB 1891, a bill that would have supported a pilot project for rangeland wildfire protections, fizzled out early in the legislative process.
HB 2078, Outdoor Education for All, passed. More 5th and 6th graders across Washington will have greater opportunities to access the outdoors, thanks to this new grant program that will be set up through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Schools. Seward Park Audubon Center testified in support of this legislation, offering an important and vivid example of how nature and birds can transform a child’s life.
Much more must be done to ensure a resilient Washington state for all birds and people. Vashon Audubon will continue to work with Audubon Washington and other chapters to revive key priorities in the 2023 Legislative session.