By Tim Manns
At this writing in the third week of March, the spread of COVID-19 and the world’s struggles to deal with it have crowded out almost all other news. Nonetheless, let’s briefly look at the outcome of the Washington State legislative session that ended March 12th. Audubon’s priorities met both success and disappointment. Successes included:
- The Sustainable Farms and Fields measure (Senate Bill 5947) with financial incentives for farmers to reduce use of fossil fuels and enhance soil’s ability to hold carbon.
- A Zero Emissions Vehicles mandate (Senate Bill 5811) to make more electric vehicles available in Washington.
- Funds to map the best places in the Columbia Basin to site large scale solar energy facilities with least impact to agriculture and the environment.
- Restoration of Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife funding for basic operations which it lost in 2008 and has never recovered.
- Statewide ban on most single-use, thin plastic bags in retail stores.
- Funding to explore how to implement the principle of “net ecological gain” (in place of “no net loss”) in shoreline project development so that salmon habitat is recovered and Southern Resident Orcas aren’t starved into extinction.
Though the Legislature failed to authorize the Department of Ecology to regulate indirect greenhouse gas emissions attributable to oil and gas distributors, it did accelerate the schedule for getting the state as a whole to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (House Bill 2311). This bill also made it policy to look to forests and farms to sequester carbon. The bill sets ambitious targets to cut emissions but creates no specific path to meet them. Forty-five percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. To reduce emissions it’s essential to face this reality and act. Yet, for the second time in two years, the Clean Fuel Standard (House Bill 1110) passed the House but died in the Senate Transportation Committee. The Chairman would not allow a committee vote, and so the bill never made it to the Senate floor where it might well have passed. As already in California and Oregon, a Clean Fuel Standard would reduce the carbon content of fuels and create incentives to transition away from fossil fuels in the transportation sector. That it should fail because of a possible increase in per gallon fuel costs speaks to the failure of key political figures to take the climate crisis seriously. We will not meet the monumental challenge of climate change without cost, and the longer we wait the higher that cost will be in dollars, in human suffering, and in degradation of the natural world Audubon members value. Lacking the suddenness and immediacy of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the climate crisis at an adequate scale is too easily put off to another day.
For Audubon Washington’s overview of the legislative session: https://wa.audubon.org/news/2020-legislative-session-wraps-mixed-results. For other issues Skagit Audubon is tracking go to Conservation Notes on the Skagit Audubon website (https://www.skagitaudubon.org/).