By Tim Manns
Happily, I can lighten the gloom of May’s Conservation Report. Just when it seemed the state legislature would not pass any major bills addressing climate change, several made it - - with conditions. The two which would most reduce greenhouse gas emissions are the Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1091) and the Climate Commitment Act (SB 5126, “Cap & Invest”). With transportation accounting for 44% of Washington’s carbon emissions, really addressing the climate crisis requires transitioning away from fossil fuels. The Clean Fuel Standard does this. The Climate Commitment Act will reduce emissions from the largest single sources and also invest in the transition. The compromise in passing these bills tied their implementation to passing a transportation package before January 2023. On May 17th, Governor Inslee signed the bills but vetoed the delay provisions, likely prompting a legal challenge. The Governor stated, “Our climate commitment, made by our legislature in 2020, is to cut climate pollution by over 50% in the next nine years, on our pathway to net-zero climate pollution by 2050. It won’t be easy, but these bills go a long ways to getting us there.
Another happy outcome of the session was passing operating and capital budgets that did not cut funding for conservation and land-managing agencies, such as the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and amply funded grant programs for acquiring and restoring habitat. This was another of Audubon Washington’s priorities for the legislative session. Examples of what this means in Skagit County include funding to add the last large undeveloped South Fidalgo Island tract to Deception Pass State Park and a grant to Skagit Land Trust through the Estuary & Salmon Restoration Program, which paired with a federal grant and many generous private donations has bought and will clean up 50 acres of Samish Flats at the entrance to Samish Island.
Audubon and its partner organizations in the Environmental Priorities Coalition also prioritized passage of the HEAL Act (SB 5141, Healthy Environment for All). This bill codifies the definition of environmental justice across state agencies and requires considering environmental justice in their decisions. Unfortunately, adding climate change adaptation to the Growth Management Act (HB 1099) requirements did not succeed. However, the operating budget includes funds to create guidance for counties and cities to reduce carbon pollution and adapt to the impacts of climate change by directing growth away from rising seas, wildfire risk, flooding, and drought. This sets the stage to pass HB 1099 next year. In the meanwhile, we can work to convince our county and cities to voluntarily address climate impacts in updating comprehensive plans and shoreline master programs. Much more could be said about the pluses and minuses of the 2021 legislative session, but it’s safe to say that more was accomplished than expected in an unprecedented session conducted for the most part virtually because of the pandemic. Let’s be sure to thank our legislators who made good things happen despite the challenges.
As always, you can read about other issues Skagit Audubon is tracking in the Conservation Notes on the chapter website (www.skagitaudubon.org), but I would mention one more here. In mid-May the Skagit County Commissioners did something they had declined to do the last several years: despite 700 letters in opposition, they docketed a petition to amend the Skagit County Planning Policies to allow Fully Contained Communities (FCC’s). Docketing opens the path for further study of a planning proposal and the very real possibility of its approval by the commissioners. Counties closer to Seattle which have allowed FCC’s have come to regret these large housing developments which plunk urban density into rural areas leaving the county responsible for services that cities provide in incorporated areas. Under the Growth Management Act, Skagit County and the incorporated towns and cities here agreed years ago that 80% of the new growth our county is required to accept would take place in the Urban Growth Areas (UGA’s) established around the towns and cities. These UGA’s have enough capacity for this growth, yet the County Commissioners approved the first step in the process towards allowing (misnamed) FCC’s in Skagit County, meaning huge housing developments in unincorporated, rural areas. The more accurate term for FCC’s is sprawl and opening the door to them would significantly threaten agricultural and forested lands in Skagit County. The lack of sufficient housing and its skyrocketing cost are a serious problem, but opening the door to multi-thousand home developments outside incorporated areas is not the solution and could well mean the end of much that we value here, including habitat for swans, snow geese, bald eagles, … This is an issue for us all to watch and speak out about.