OLYMPIA, WA–Tonight, the 2021 Washington Legislative Session concludes and Washington’s Environmental Priorities Coalition (EPC), which represents more than 20 statewide organizations, is celebrating bold and historic environmental progress achieved in 2021. The Legislature passed two of the three 2021 EPC Priorities, a Clean Fuel Standard, and Conservation Works which focused on preserving and investing in environmental programs in the state budgets. Additionally, three Partnership Agenda Items passed this session, including the HEAL Act, Working Families Tax Credit, and Voting Rights which restored voting rights to 20,000 Washingtonians. While significant progress was made this session, there remains critical unfinished business and a dire need to prioritize a transportation package that advances Clean and Just Transportation, another Priority this session.
Members of the Environmental Priorities Coalition expressed a deep sense of hope and gratitude for the work done this session to pass policy for Washingtonians, the climate, and people’s health, especially after years of delay on the Clean Fuel Standard and HEAL Act. One thing of note is the number of women that were on the cutting edge of this year’s climate success. At every stage imaginable, female leaders worked tirelessly to make this year’s progress possible.
“The incredible progress that was made for our futures is a remarkable turn of events after the year we’ve just experienced. In the great pause created by COVID, and in the context of a national racial reckoning and an uncertain economic recovery, this year’s environmental progress is truly remarkable,” said Alyssa Macy, CEO, of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters. “Legislators in Olympia, and especially Representative Joe Fitzgibbon, heard our communities loud-and-clear: we won’t back down until you’ve achieved bold environmental progress and they certainly delivered.”
Environmental Priorities Coalition Priorities:
Clean Fuel Standard: We need our transportation to be clean, affordable, and accessible. A Clean Fuel Standard requires fuel producers and importers to reduce climate pollution from the fuels that power our transportation system. It is a tested and effective policy that will clean our air, give us more options to fuel our vehicles (such as electricity and local, sustainable biofuels), spur economic development, cut climate pollution from our highest-emitting sector, and move us beyond oil. HB 1091, the Clean Fuel Standard, officially passed both chambers in its final form today and heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
“Finally, Washington will let up on the gas and instead hit the accelerator for clean fuels to power our transit, freight, and personal vehicles,” stated Leah Missik with Climate Solutions and the Campaign Manager of the Clean Fuels Now Priority for the Coalition. “The Legislature listened to our broad coalition of environmental organizations, forward-thinking businesses, workers, health professionals, community groups, and local governments, and thousands of people spoke up and demanded action on this critical climate and health policy year after year. Now we can all literally breathe more easily as we move on and continue to work for climate justice and transition to a clean energy economy.”
Conservation Works: The Conservation Works priority successfully protected essential environmental programs from budget cuts and promoted investments in proven projects that tackle climate change, create good jobs, support salmon and orca recovery, and help communities chart their own course for a better future.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen how important nature is to our physical and mental health. Whether it’s finding a safe place to get out of our homes and recharge for a bit or keeping a close eye on air quality from pollution or smoke to avoid a respiratory emergency,” said Darcy Nonemacher, Government Affairs Director, Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation Voters. “State leaders recognized how essential our natural resources are and adopted a two year budget to invest in our environment, create good jobs, and protect this place that we call home.”
The Conservation Works capital budget package secured $448 million for projects statewide including:
- $16.3 million for Community Forest grants that provide clean drinking water, protect working forest jobs, and keep economic gains local;
- $75 million in stormwater grants for green infrastructure projects from Spokane to Walla Walla to Bellingham;
- $81 million for clean energy projects like weatherization for low income households, retrofits of public buildings, and grid modernizations.
One of the biggest investments seen throughout the budget is evolving environmental programs and funding processes to center racial equity and environmental justice. This will improve transparency and accessibility as the state makes decisions, utilize and enhance data systems on health disparities, and ensure that the state is better serving the needs of frontline communities. The state’s Operating and Capital budgets were approved today and include a number of the important items we advocated for.
Clean and Just Transportation: Transportation is the state’s largest source of climate pollution, and we have substantial needs across the state to ensure people can move around safely, easily, and efficiently. The Clean and Just Transportation priority, in partnership with the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, is focused on funding and investing in a holistic transportation system with appropriate revenue sources that increase accessibility for all users, prioritize equity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts.
“We built a collective vision for a Clean & Just transportation future, changed the narrative, and set a new floor for the level of transit, pedestrian, bicycle and clean investments that are acceptable. Equity and the environment are now priority issues for a new transportation package. We have built momentum with allies in the legislature, and people across Washington who are demanding safe, reliable, accessible and sustainable transportation options,” said Kelsey Mesher, Advocacy Director, Transportation Choices Coalition.
While a Clean and Just Transportation package was not achieved, our communities’ advocacy resulted in historic proposals for multimodal and clean transportation issues. There is more to do but a new bar has been set. We look forward to passing a transportation package that reflects the needs of Washingtonians from all life experiences.
Partnership Agenda Items: The Partnership Agenda is made up of bills that are important for environmental progress but are led by partner organizations or community groups. The goal of the Partnership Agenda is to amplify important issues for legislative action.
Environmental Justice / HEAL Act
The Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act was reintroduced and shaped following input from around the state through the Environmental Justice Task Force. The bill, SB 5141, was led by Senator Rebecca Saldańa (D, 37th) and Front and Centered, and creates an Environmental Task Force Council and directs agencies to integrate environmental justice into its processes, policy implementation, and funding processes. The bill passed the legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature.
Voting Justice: Voting rights restoration, HB 1078, was sponsored by Representative Tarra Simmons (D, 23rd) and led by the Voting Justice Coalition. The bill passed the legislature and was signed into law earlier this month. As a result, an estimated 20,000 people in the state will have their voting rights restored.
Working Families Tax Credit: The Working Families Tax Credit has been an important priority for a number of years. This session, Representative My Linh-Thai (D, 41st) and our partners at the Washington Budget and Policy Center introduced a bill to ensure roughly 500,000 people statewide have access to the cash rebate. Washington state has the most regressive tax system in the country, and this policy is an important step to address the disproportionate tax burden on low and middle income earners.
In addition to an extraordinarily successful session for our EPC priorities and partnership items, Legislators in Olympia passed other notable environmental laws this year, including a carbon cap-and-invest policy combined with an air quality regulatory program, and a bill to direct investments in wildfire resilience, including forest health, community preparedness and wildfire emergency response, as well as substantial funding to implement it.
ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL PRIORITIES 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 the legislative session to help focus environmental community resources and best achieve our shared goals. @epctweets environmentalpriorities.org