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HUGE victory for climate change planning and sea level rise mitigation in Washington

We are incredibly excited to announce two MAJOR victories that will go hand in hand in addressing the effects of climate change in Washington State. After several years of work from Surfrider staff and our advocate allies, HB 1181 (Rep. Duerr) passed the Legislature.  Additionally, full funding of the Dept. of Ecology Coastal Hazards Planning Package was approved by the Legislature, and both have been now officially been signed into law by Governor Inslee.  This marks a culmination of efforts by coastal advocates that will have lasting impacts on our ability to prep for climate change in our state.

PASSED: HB 1181, Improving the state's response to climate change by updating the state's planning framework. This bill will help build climate-resilient communities in every city and county across Washington. This law amends Washington’s Grown Management Act to include sea level rise and climate change.  It mandates reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, it bolsters communities and natural resources against the accelerating impacts of a changing climate.  It also adds a definition of environmental justice into the Growth Management Act.  as our state population grows and our cities and communities expand, its critical that plan them accordingly, from more livable. 

Aerial image of the Washington Coast along the Grays Harbor County shoreline looking northwards. Aerial support provided by LightHawk, photo credit Gus Gates.

For the last 32 years, the state has operated under the guidance of the Growth Management Act (GMA). This Act was intended to preserve valuable rural and resource lands and open space and direct most development into urban areas. Its requirements include planning for land use, housing, transportation and more. With the emergence of the climate change and housing crises, modifications to the GMA are being proposed to strengthen the state’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance climate resilience and mitigation and provide adequate housing for the entire population.

SINGED BY GOVERNOR INSLEE: In tandem with 1181, State Budget writer’s fully funded a $3.9 million Coastal Hazards Planning Package for the Dept. of Ecology.

Washington faces severe and costly damage to life and property from climate change. For coastal populations, there is an increased risk from worsening coastal hazards, such as flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. At Governor Inslee’s request, the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council developed a set of coastal resilience recommendations in 2021, focused on building the organizational infrastructure for a sustained partnership between state agencies and coastal communities to help them address the challenging issues of the present, and shape a prosperous future. This will fund the Dept. of Ecology for staff capacity needed to implement three of these priority recommendations (1) expand data analysis to assess site scale vulnerabilities within coastal communities, (2) deliver coordinated state level technical assistance, and (3) increase local capacity to design and implement effective on the ground projects.

We are already facing impacts and consequences from sea level rise and climate change. 

This funding will steer resources to projects that prioritize areas already being impacted by climate. While this work is first focused on the outer coast, it will expand to include the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. It will allow for a statewide Comprehensive sea level rise study and partner with SeaGrant Washington through the Resilience Action Demonstration Project (RAD) identify and support the most vulnerable areas on our coast by creating a COASTAL hazards project viewer. This work will result in a list of projects that communities that need it the most. 

This funding is critical to help communities develop sea level rise plans, and coast specific rules. With changing sea levels places can erode or add land through accretion, this will change the face of our coastlines and how we manage development or mitigation strategies. 

Taken together, the passage of HB 1181 and this new funding, Washington has made bold policy and fiscal gains that are necessary to both adapt and fight the effects of climate change and sea level rise.  While our state has always been a leader in climate change mitigation, we are also ground zero for its effects.  These two victories make Washington State a global leader in how to adapt and react responsibly.