science environment

Washington Lawmakers Leave Enviros Feeling Shorted

By Eilis O'Neill (OPB) and Courtney Flatt (OPB)
July 22, 2017 12:40 a.m.

Washington’s legislative session, the longest in state history, did not deliver the money environmentalists wanted for toxic cleanup, oil transportation safety, or natural resources.

Going into the session, the Environmental Priorities Coalition — made up of more than twenty Washington environmental groups — had placed a priority on getting the state to spend more on environmental protection.


They wanted toxic cleanup spending to come from the general operating budget, instead of from the money raised by fees on petroleum and other toxic products. They also wanted lawmakers to put state dollars into the spill prevention and response measures required under the Oil Transportation Safety Act passed in 2015.


Both of those were a no-go.

But by far the biggest bucket of money environmentalists wanted was the capital budget, which is dedicated to the costs of land, buildings and infrastructure. Lawmakers left town Thursday without passing that budget, which would have included $15 million for forests.

“It’s a setback for our efforts to make forests healthier,” says Joe Smillie, with the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “It’s another year for bugs to spread and for diseases to spread. When trees are dead or dry or diseased, they become that much more susceptible to wildfires.”

Washington’s Republican-controlled Senate has refused to sign off on the capital construction budget until there’s an agreement on how to divvy up water for homeowners, cities, farms, and fish.

Ever since the controversial Hirst ruling, which put decisions about well construction in the hands of local governments, property owners have been left wondering about whether they can drill a well or not, while environmentalists worry there's no comprehensive plan to keep enough water in streams and rivers for salmon. But Republicans and Democrats have struggled to come up with an alternative they can agree on.

It’s likely that lawmakers will have to hold yet another special session this fall to end this stalemate.