With Washington legislative session over, environmental groups cheer biggest wins in a decade

click to enlarge With the close of the 2019 Legislative session, Washington will move ahead with a long list of environmental priorities that were passed, including getting the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
Young Kwak photo
With the close of the 2019 Legislative session, Washington will move ahead with a long list of environmental priorities that were passed, including getting the state to 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

Environmental groups are lauding Washington's 2019 legislative session, which ended Sunday night with passage of the two-year operating budget, as the biggest win for the environment in at least a decade.

"Through the dedicated work of a broad team of partners and strong public support, the 2019 legislative session signaled a new direction for our environment," says Darcy Nonemacher, lobbyist for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, which is composed of more than 20 statewide groups. "Because of the remarkable work done this year, our kids’ air will be cleaner, our streams and Puget Sound will be healthier, and Washington is once again a leader for the rest of the country in the fight against climate change."

Three of four major goals from the Environmental Priorities Coalition were passed, along with a slew of other laws seen as good news for the environment.

"As a husband, father and citizen legislator it is a personal and professional honor to have played a role in helping to pass the most substantive environmental agenda in a generation," said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, in a statement. "Our work this year goes beyond traditional political clichés and embraces a bold climate action agenda that will make a meaningful impact for our grandchildren’s quality of life. ... Our dream of reaching Paris Accord-level carbon reductions in the years to come is no longer a fantasy but a serious aspiration that is within our reach."

Here's a summary of several of the laws and funding asks that were closely watched by the environmental crowd this session:


100 Percent Clean Energy: Washington now has the strictest 100 percent clean energy law in the country, which will see the state get all of its electricity from renewable and clean sources by 2045. Coal will be phased out by 2025, and carbon neutrality should be met within about a decade.

Oil Spill Prevention: HB 1578 was passed, requiring tugboat escorts for smaller oil-carrying tug-barges that enter Puget Sound.

Orca Protection/Preventing Toxic Pollution Affecting Public Health and the Environment: Basically, the thinking here is that bioaccumulative toxic chemicals are bad for people, for the environment and for Orcas.

With passage of SB 5135, the Legislature directs the Department of Ecology to identify consumer products that have significant levels of persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals and regulate them. That could mean requiring manufacturers to label those products with warnings that they contain the chemicals and/or restricting the use of those chemicals in certain products.

Reducing Plastic Pollution: Plastic bags won't be banned from grocery stores for now, as SB 5323, which would have eliminated most plastic bags from retail use and implemented a fee for paper or recyclable plastic bags, did not pass. Environmental groups say they plan to bring back the bag ban in 2020.


Snake River Dam Meetings:
The operating budget includes $750,000 ($375,000 in each 2020 and 2021) for the state to hire a neutral third party to lead meetings with people on the local, state, tribal and federal level to talk about what the stakes are if four Snake River dams are removed.

Clean Fuel Standard: HB 1110, which would've created a clean fuel standard in Washington similar to existing policies in California, Oregon and British Columbia, passed the House but failed to pass the Senate. Environmental groups also plan to bring this one back in 2020.

HEAL Act: SB 5489 and HB 2009 would have ensured "the right of all Washington residents to a healthful environment" and had the state commit to environmental justice principles, but neither version passed both chambers.

However, environmental health disparities work will move forward with what's being called the Heal Act task force, says Christina Twu, a spokesperson for Front and Centered, the coalition of organizations that pushed for the act.

The operating budget includes a total of $390,000 for the Department of Health to establish a task force that will recommend how to incorporate environmental justice principles into the work of state agencies.

Clean Buildings Standards: HB 1257 establishes an efficiency standard with incentives for large commercial buildings, as well as electric vehicle infrastructure requirements for those buildings.

Green Transportation: HB 2042 imposes fees on electric vehicles that don't already pay the alternative fuel registration renewal fee or the other new transportation electrification fee, and includes a list of other tax changes to incentivize investment in electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Solar Fairness Act: SB 5223 continues the ability for customers to sell power back to their utility if they meet certain requirements and the utilities haven't met specific cutoffs. 

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...