Now that we’ve had a few weeks to decompress and do some reflecting back on the short 2022 Washington Legislative session, we wanted to share a high level recap on how the 3 WA Surfrider Legislative priorities faired this year. We always knew it was going to be an uphill push during the fast paced 60 day session, an election year, and coming on the heals of so much success for our ocean and coast last year. In many ways it was very much a mixed bag, or perhaps best described as the good, the bad, and the ugly…more on that below.
The Good: Kelp Forest and Eelgrass Meadow Conservation & Restoration (SB 5619) Passes!
Victory!! On March 30th, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5619 into law, and it will go into effect on June 9th, 2022. Thanks to the leadership of State Senator Liz Lovelett, the bill passed the Senate with unanimous support, and received only one vote in opposition in the House. The bill was requested by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), who has been tracking long-term trends of kelp forests and eelgrass meadows and has identified areas of concerning losses for both habitats. In particular, bull kelp in South and Central Puget Sound regions declined by more than 90% in the last 150 years, according to recent analyses. Eelgrass meadows in the San Juan Islands have seen severe declines as well in just the last 20 years.
Changes in the abundance or distribution of these habitats likely reflect changes in environmental conditions and will require collective action across partnering agencies, Tribes, organizations, and communities to support future ecosystem health. As a resut of this legislation passing, DNR will lead a collaborative planning process to proactively assess and prioritize areas for coordinated conservation and restoration activities of kelp forests and eelgrass meadows throughout the Puget Sound and along the Washington Coastline. This process would fulfill and build upon the next critical steps highlighted in existing regional plans for kelp forests and eelgrass meadows (Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan and the Puget Sound Eelgrass Recovery Strategy).
Kelp forests and eelgrass meadows are diverse and productive nearshore ecosystems, providing critical habitat for a wide array of marine life, including threatened and endangered species such as salmon, rockfish, and abalone. These marine forests and meadows play an important role in climate mitigation and adaptation by sequestering carbon and reducing ocean acidification. In addition to these ecological benefits, kelp and eelgrass have important cultural value to Northwest Tribal Nations, playing a prominent role in traditional fishing, hunting, and food preparation and storage.
All of the Washington Surfrider Foundation Chapters supported this legislation in various ways, from phone banking their State Reps and Senator, signing in pro during hearings, to sharing calls to action on their social channels. Additionally, WA Surfrider staff provided oral testimony in support of the bill during committee hearings and highlighted the importance of being inclusive in monitoring and conservation of kelp and eelgrass on the outer coast, and Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay estuaries. Partners in this effort included Washington Department of Natural Resources, Seattle Aquarium, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Washington Sea Grant, and others.
The Bad: Renewing Washington’s Recycling System and Reducing Waste (SB 5697)
Despite a ton of hard work, numerous studies over the past few years, and challenging negotiations, the bill only made it out of the policy committee in the Senate and didn’t make it to the floor for a vote due to opposition on sticking points. Along with our partners at the Plastic Free Washington/ Washington Sin Plastico Coalition, as well as many local municipalities across Washington, our efforts to establish an Extended Producer Responsibility System for packaging materials and modernize our recycling system and reduce waste made a good run, but didn’t end up with the outcome that we were hoping for. More background on this comprehensive bill and why it is still needed. Conversations will continue on this issue over the interim period, and we plan to give it another go next year as the problem only continues to grow.
The Ugly: Sea Level Rise Planning Now! (HB 1099)
What would have been one of the biggest and most important updates to the Growth Management Act in 30 years once again slipped through our fingers in the last hours of the 2022 legislative session. We actively worked on this issue as part of the Washington Can’t Wait Coalition led by FutureWise. For us, the key piece of this bill was about building coastal resiliency for coastal communities by requiring that planning efforts incorporate Sea Level Rise and increasing storm severity.
- All GMA planning counties and cities to plan for the impacts of climate change. In this planning, jurisdictions would plan to protect people, especially our most vulnerable, and ecological systems from climate hazards, like sea-level rise, wildfires, and extreme heat;
- Our largest and fastest-growing counties and cities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled by choosing from a list of actions developed by the Department of Commerce;
- Planning to be guided by environmental justice principles by prioritizing emission reductions and resiliency actions in overburdened communities that disproportionately suffer from compounding environmental and climate impacts.
Despite having the support of 36 local elected officials, 2 tribal governments, several cities, 7 labor unions, over 70 climate and housing justice organizations, and thousands of individual constituents, the WA House of Representatives failed to take the final step to vote YES on HB1099 on the final day of the legislative session.
The bill arrived back in the House chamber after what can only be described as a tumultuous path through the legislative process. HB1099 was one of the first bills passed out of the House of Representatives at the beginning of the legislative session. As it moved through the Senate Housing and Local Government Committee, it picked up significant environmental justice provisions. Then, an amendment introduced in the Senate Ways and Means Committee gutted the bill of nearly all mention of climate change and the requirement that our fastest-growing jurisdictions reduce their vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions. This watered-down version of the bill passed the WA Senate, at which point it was referred to a Conference Committee. This committee was comprised of select members of the House and Senate who were tasked with reconciling the two different versions of the bill that passed out of each chamber.
Thanks to Representative Duerr, Representative Fitzgibbon, Senator Lovelett, and an outpouring of support from stakeholders across the state, the version of HB1099 that passed out of the Conference Committee re-incorporated the critical climate mitigation elements that had been scrubbed out, and also included housing provisions from Rep Batemans’ middle housing bill (HB 1782) that would have allowed jurisdictions to meet their first round of reduction requirements by building denser housing near transit corridors.
Once the conference committee passed this updated version of HB1099, the House and Senate needed to vote YES on last time to pass HB1099 law. Around 6:30 PM on March 10th, the last day of the session, the Senate passed this updated version, leaving the House with several hours to pass a bill that they already voted on and passed earlier in the session. Yet, they let the clock run out.
And just like that, a bill that should have been a slam-dunk for the legislature- policy that addressed the housing, climate, and environmental justice crises plaguing our state- did not make it over the finish line.
Seeing this bill come so far, yet fall short at the 11th hour definitely leaves a bad taste in our mouth, but we are committed to keeping fighting on this issue in the months and years ahead, it’s the only choice we have.
Constant Pressure. Endlessly Applied.