By Tim Manns
On January 9th, the Washington State Legislature will convene for a Regular (i.e. budget writing) Session scheduled to end April 23. Meeting the mandate in the State Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision to adequately fund public education, and the pressing need to improve mental health services, will dominate the budget discussion, as will necessary related tax reform. Some legislators have been using these critical needs as reasons for reducing state programs and services vital to restoring and protecting the environment with all the implications such reductions would have for the well-being of people and all other life. The balance of political power in the Senate and House will present great obstacles to passing environmental legislation. It is nonetheless important to make our interests known and push for what we believe important. If our state’s tax system were less regressive, we could readily afford to properly fund education and mental health services without sacrificing the environment.
Audubon Washington, on behalf of the state’s 25 Audubon chapters, participates with over 20 other conservation organizations in the Environmental Priorities Coalition. Each year this group chooses a few areas on which to focus its collective efforts with the state legislature. Priorities for the 2017 session build on those of recent years:
- Further improve the safety of oil transportation by rail, ship, and pipeline. Improvements are needed in spill prevention and response, liability for accidental damage, and pipeline safety.
- Reform the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) of 1988. Passed as a voter initiative, for 27-years this law has helped clean up 6,600 toxic sites from leaking gas station tanks to large industrial areas along the Anacortes waterfront. MTCA is funded by a tax on hazardous substances with 95% of the revenue tied to oil prices. Since these prices began dropping in 2014, revenue has also dropped sharply. At times the legislature has further depleted the fund by diverting MTCA revenues to needs unrelated to the purposes of the act. The Environmental Priorities Coalition will work to restore and stabilize MTCA funding so that environmental clean-up can continue apace.
- Protect regulations regarding instream flow. Protection and restoration of salmon stocks depends on sufficient flows of water in streams and rivers. Inadequate planning and regulation by certain counties plus poor decisions by some landowners have created great pressure to overturn instream flow rules, which would be bad news for salmon and other aquatic creatures, and ultimately for people too.
There are several others areas in which Audubon Washington and the chapters will be active during the 2017 legislative session. Carbon pricing initiative I-732 failed on the November ballot but garnered a higher level of support than many expected. Realizing that climate change is the greatest threat to birds as well as a crisis for people, Audubon will support any well-designed carbon pricing bill or other approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Audubon will also work with the Washington Public Interest Group to build grass roots support across the state for greatly increasing solar energy in Washington while also supporting legislated incentives for installing solar power.
Maintaining forest cover is important for many reasons, including protecting bird habitat. Audubon Washington will continue pursuing what Skagit Audubon initiated a year ago, seeking reform of the Forest Practices Act to prevent clear-cuts in urban growth areas. What happened next to Mt. Vernon’s Little Mountain Park in 2015 despite the city’s critical areas ordinances should never happen again in any of Washington’s urban areas. With other organizations, Skagit Audubon will also keep pushing for the funding needed to protect Blanchard Mountain Forest’s1600 core acres. This is the only remaining place where the forests of the Cascades touch the Salish Sea.
The November 2016 election outcome should motivate us all to practice active citizenship. Here are two ways you can do that:
- Sign up for legislative alerts and updates with Audubon Washington:
http://wa.audubon.org/conservation/legislative-session-2017. Also, our state
government has a good website for tracking bills, commenting on them, seeing
committee assignments, and contacting your legislators: http://leg.wa.gov/.
While you’re at it, please sign up for National Audubon alerts too:
- Participate in Audubon Advocacy Day on February 21st. More information will be coming soon on signing up to visit your state legislators and urge their support for the conservation measures discussed in this report. Let’s go to Olympia!