Washington State Legislation

The National Audubon Society has determined that climate change continues to be the foremost threat to birds. In 2020, the advocacy leadership of Audubon Washington led to some significant legislative victories in our state to address this existential threat to birds and other living things. But much more remains to be done.

The Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1110) failed to pass this year and will be reintroduced next year. Transportation accounts for about 44 percent of all greenhouse gasses emitted in the state. This bill would bring Washington’s emission standards in line with those of California, which are much more stringent than the recently weakened national standards.

Legislation that would grant authority to the Washington Department of Ecology to regulate greenhouse gasses from mobile sources (HB 2957) also failed. This issue mirrors the dispute during the Obama administration about whether the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse emissions—not pollutants in the traditional sense. The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the DoE does not currently have this authority. This bill would correct that. Look for it to be reintroduced.

The Growth Management Act is a series of statutes which were first adopted in 1990. They require comprehensive planning by counties and municipalities to allow for population growth and development while preserving habitat quality and ecological integrity. As things stand, these comprehensive plans do not have to account for climate change. Audubon Washington is spearheading an ongoing effort to correct this deficiency.

While the Healthy Habitat / Healthy Orcas bill (HB 2550) failed this year for lack of a companion bill in the Senate, more than $250,000 was budgeted to explore how best to implement the proposed principal of “net ecological gain.” Under current statute, any developer (including governments) undertaking a project that requires environmental review must balance any habitat loss with an equal amount of habitat restoration or protection. This principal of “no net loss” has not actually resulted in no net habitat loss. We continue to lose vital habitat. The effort to substitute the principle of “net ecological gain” for “no net loss” will certainly be back in the coming year in a form that we hope will become law.

Finally, the ramifications of COVID for the state budget are a great unknown and a matter of great concern. Increased spending in response to the pandemic and decreased revenue as the stimulus fades have resulted in projected deficits of more than $4 billion dollars over the next couple of years. Without further stimulus and assistance from the federal government, cuts to state habitat conservation efforts and enforcement of environmental laws are inevitable. Now is not the time to go backwards.

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