House passes bills on vessel noise and disturbance, salmon habitat recovery, and preventing oil spills

Senate advances toxic pollution prevention  as well as vessel noise and disturbance

March 7th (Olympia, WA) – In sweeping votes from both houses, the Washington State Legislature took major steps to address the emergency facing southern resident orcas and the systemic problem of Puget Sound recovery. Each bill represents recommendations put forward by Governor Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force and are 2019 legislative priorities for the Environmental Priorities Coalition.

Bills passed today include:

  • Protecting habitat (HB 1579) Lead sponsor Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-West Seattle)
    • Supports chinook salmon and forage fish populations by protecting and restoring habitat
  • Reducing vessel noise and disturbance (HB 1580 and SB 5577) lead sponsors Representative Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) and Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge)
    • Reduces vessel speed and increases the vessel buffer zone near orcas so they can more easily find and hear prey, institutes commercial whalewatch licensing, and initiates process to identify safe whalewatching around southern resident orcas
  • Reducing sources of toxic pollution (SSB 5135), lead sponsor Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge)
    • Reduces sources of toxic pollution  by addressing the use of classes of chemicals that are of particular concern to sensitive species like orcas and vulnerable populations like kids.
  • Preventing oil spills (HB 1578) lead sponsor Representative Debra Lekanoff (D-Bow)
    • Extends  proven safeguards to all vessels carrying crude oil by establishing zone-based tug escort requirements for oil-laden vessels in the waters around the San Juan Islands.

“New environmental champions and longtime leaders in Olympia have come together to show with the right leadership, we can step across the aisle and work to solve even our most daunting problems,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters. “We have to address both short term issues like orcas not being able to find food and looming long term threats like a catastrophic oil spill in the Salish Sea. “This was a critical step and our Sound and our orcas can’t wait.”

“Shortly after Governor Inslee put out his call to action for orcas last year we watched a grief stricken mother carry her dead calf for 17 days, with her family mourning beside her – a stark reminder of all that we stand to lose with a population that is now the lowest in decades,”  said Amy Carey, Executive Director of Sound Action.  “Yesterday’s leadership action from the legislature and from Governor Inslee was a critical step forward to increase the availability of chinook salmon statewide by protecting habitat for forage fish and salmon that will benefit our beloved orcas.”  

“Washington just took an enormous step to make progress restoring our Sound,” said Laurie Valeriano, Executive Director, Toxic-Free Future. “Critical action is needed to turn off the tap on some of the most concerning chemicals in consumer products that get into our homes, bodies, waters and wildlife. These are key parts of the plan to help recover orcas, as well as to protect kids and future generations. We urge the Legislature to pass these bills and send them to Governor Inslee’s desk.”

###

Contact:
Nick Abraham, nick@wecprotects.org 425-761-9368
Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, ivy@toxicfreefuture.org, 206-854-7623

about the coalition

The Environmental Priorities Coalition is a network of over twenty leading environmental groups in Washington State that influence policy at the state level. For over a decade, the Coalition has selected joint priority issues to work on during legislative session to help focus environmental community resources and best achieve our shared goals.