Header graphic for print
Science, Law & the Environment Emerging Topics in Environmental Law

Five Environmental Issues to Track as Washington’s 64th Legislature Begins Session

Posted in Emerging Policy, Fish Consumption, Legislation, Tax, Water Quality

Governor Inslee has been busy since the end of the last legislative session laying out his environmental agenda, announcing his intent to pursue an aggressive climate change agenda back in April, and coupling the controversial fish consumption issue to an overall toxics reduction strategy.

Today marks the start of the legislative session. Here are five things to track from an environmental perspective:

1. Education Funding. Yes, you got that right, funding (or not funding) of the McCleary mandate by the Supreme Court and Initiative 1351 is, in my mind key to environmental legislation this session. Although both of these topics do not directly impact environmental issues, you can bet that they’ll impact the overall progress of the legislative session. Whether the two sides of the aisle can find ways to compromise, and whether the funding sources are worked out, will clearly have an impact on the legislature’s ability to pass other bills for the Governor’s signature.

2. Carbon Price (tax, err, cap-and-trade). In December, Governor Inslee announced his decision to push forward a carbon price in Washington, releasing the Carbon Pollution Acountability Act. His proposal will impose something akin to cap-and-trade in Washington, requiring 130 facilities and fuel distributors to purchase allowances for each metric ton of carbon it emits. The Governor has coupled his proposal with a promise to use revenues to fund transportation infrastructure and education (see why the McCleary issue is #1 on my list?). I’m not willing to set odds on the chances of the Governor’s preferred legislation, but I do think there will be a price placed on carbon in Washington within the next two years, either through legislation or citizen initiative.

3. Oil Transport. In 2014 we saw some efforts to address this issue, including a budgetary authorization for a study on marine and rail oil transportation in Washington. A draft of that study was completed by the Department of Ecology in December. It contained twelve recommendations for the 2015-17 biennium, a number of which would require statutory changes. Ecology’s recommendations could become fodder for comprehensive legislation on this subject.

4. Toxics Reduction. Part of Governor Inslee’s proposed solution on the fish consumption issue is the roll-out of a comprehensive strategy to address sources of toxics to Washington’s waters that are not regulated by the Clean Water Act. Once again, portions of this proposed strategy will require legislative action. Peter Jensen over at the Washington State Wire reported on an early draft bill that the Governor floated back in November. That bill would give the Department of Ecology the authority to require manufacturers to use less-toxic chemicals under certain circumstances. Because of the Governor’s stated commitment to include such a toxics reduction package with the draft Water Quality Standards package to be sent to EPA soon, we are sure to see a fair amount of legislative action on this issue.

5. Low Carbon Fuel Standard. A LCFS is another expressed desire of Governor Inslee. He included the study of an LCFS in his executive order on climate change, and this issue has come up in the past. Although the Governor has threatened to impose an LCFS via executive order, it arguably needs to be done through legislative action. Now may be a politically palatable time to do so, given the low price of gasoline at the pump.

Overall, and as usual, environmental matters will be a big part of this legislative session. We’ll keep you updated as things unfold.