By Tim Manns
Each October, Audubon Washington convenes representatives from the state’s 25 Audubon chapters for 2 meetings. October 2nd, the Washington State Audubon Conservation Committee (WSACC) met via Zoom with chapter presidents, conservation chairs, and other interested members. The next day the Audubon Council of Washington (ACOW) took place with board and general members from across the state in attendance. Both meetings had some focus on conservation issues looking ahead to the Washington State Legislature’s 2021 session, which opens for a 120-day regular session January 11th.
Because of the budget shortfall associated with the Covid-19 pandemic and the necessary public health measures, considerably fewer bills than usual will advance in the legislature. Those requiring funding will face severe obstacles. During the WSACC meeting Audubon’s contract lobbyist, Brynn Brady, stated the overall key issues for the session: public health, housing, child-care, tax reform, the transportation budget, and climate change. While all these are important, climate change and transportation as it affects the environment are of particular relevance to Audubon’s mission.
National Audubon has identified climate change as the greatest threat to birds (https://www.audubon.org/news/new-audubon-science-two-thirds-north-american-birds-risk-extinction-due-climate). Accordingly, in the 2021 state legislative session Audubon Washington will again advocate for measures addressing climate change. Adam Maxwell, Campaigns Manager for Audubon Washington, described Audubon’s three-pronged agenda.
First is defending conservation funding. Conservation-related spending, such as the budget for the Department of Fish & Wildlife, tends to be cut disproportionately when revenue is scarce. As Representative Debra Lekanoff (40th District) described in her keynote address at ACOW on October 3rd, she is also working with an ad-hoc committee on a plan for green bonds to fund certain environmental priorities including ecosystem restoration.
The second prong Adam described is tackling greenhouse gas emissions by passing a low carbon fuel standard. Transportation accounts for over 40% of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State, more than any other source. A Clean Fuel Standard policy, such as California, Oregon, and British Columbia already have, would require oil refiners and importers to reduce the carbon intensity of fuels and would support transportation electrification.
The third prong Adam described is climate resilience through updating the Growth Management Act (GMA) to require that counties and cities address climate change in local comprehensive planning. This effort is in partnership with organizations such as Futurewise, which is mounting a major campaign to update the GMA. Under this act passed in 1990, Skagit County, Mount Vernon, Anacortes, et al. are required to develop and periodically update a Comprehensive Plan governing land use and development. In her remarks, Representative Lekanoff described work on another change to the GMA and the Shoreline Management Act which would upgrade the current standard of “no net loss” of ecological function from development projects to one of “net ecological gain”. This proposed change is driven by the failure of the current standard to contribute effectively to reversing the decline of salmon in Washington’s waters. There are also implications for recovering the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
For the first time, Audubon Washington will hold an advocacy day before the legislative session to communicate Audubon’s priorities to state legislators. This virtual event will take place December 9, 2020. Watch for information on participating. Also, Audubon is part of the Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), whose over 20 organizational members advocate for several bills each legislative session. Those will be announced soon, and there will be a (probably virtual) EPC lobby day during the session.
For other issues on which Skagit Audubon is focusing, see “Conservation Notes” under the Conservation tab at www.skagitaudubon.org.