Washington legislators came into their 2019 session brimming with proposals to help rescue Puget Sound’s imperiled orcas. But now they have dropped one of the most important – and controversial – ideas: A three-year moratorium on commercial whale watching.
Puget Sound’s beloved orcas are at risk of extinction and scientists say one key step to rescuing them is boosting oceangoing runs of chinook salmon, the biggest, fattest and most nutritious kind of salmon and the killer whales’ main food source. But legislators seeking to open up more than 1,000 miles of prime inland spawning areas that are currently blocked to the fish by culverts are struggling to find a funding source. What is blocking all those fish? Culverts. These are the pipes and tunnels that pass under roads throughout the state, allowing water to flow downstream. It turns out that many old highway projects in the state were poorly engineered where they intersect with salmon-bearing streams and as a result can block the fish in a variety of ways.
With the world struggling to understand the ramifications of climate change, acidification of ocean waters driven by the change threatens oysters, clams and other shellfish grown by the nation’s largest shellfish producer. Can five generations of shellfish farming continue?
President Trump’s proposed $28 million cut of Puget Sound restoration funding has provoked an outcry. But loss of federal funding is not the only cause for concern. State funding, which pays for a much larger share of those restoration costs, also is facing cuts, leaving the fate of Puget Sound restoration funding up in the air.
The Washington Legislature is considering a bill on whether and how to strengthen one of the state’s oldest natural resource permits and the only one dedicated to protecting fish habitat. But the threat of lawsuits, potential budget cuts, and a decades old jurisdiction debate may prevent it from passing.
Should fighting climate change translate into spending more on education? That’s what Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is advocating. Wrangling over this and related proposals to shore up longstanding education-funding shortages will likely overshadow most environmental issues in the 105-day legislative session that got under way this week. But builders, environmentalists, legislators and others in the environmental arena say that even with the education-funding debate taking center stage, they will try to move forward on a slew of fronts. Subjects likely to come up include growth management, water rights, Puget Sound restoration and cleanup of toxic waste sites.
InvestigateWest reached a milestone this week when we co-hosted a large public-policy forum on the State Capitol grounds in Olympia.The subject was stormwater, the polluted rainwater runoff I’ve been writing about for perhaps a decade now, with particular emphasis on its effects on Puget Sound, where it is the largest source of toxics. For two years running environmentalists have unsuccessfully advanced plans in Olympia to raise money to deal with the problem. More bills are pending in the current legislative session, so it seemed like a logical time to raise the issue’s profile and encourage a frank discussion.That we got. And while we never expected to resolve the entire issue at a lunchtime forum, it did feel like progress to hear all the panelists acknowledge that stormwater is a difficult problem that somehow we are going to have to deal with collectively.Seven legislators and several legislative aides joined environmentalists, business lobbyists and at least three journalists in the audience of 70. Overall it had the tone of a civil discussion with respect for all points of view – the kind of civic discourse often lacking in this age so seemingly dominated by vitriol. Once upon a time, news organizations did more of this kind of thing. The presidential debates of 1956 and 1960 may be the best-known examples. Journalists do still occasionally organize these events, but it seems to me that more of this sort of discussion could be helpful to citizens and policy-makers on all sides of many issues.Co-hosting were Sightline Institute and Washington Policy Center, the two think tanks that have most carefully followed the stormwater story in Washington. I was fortunate to work with Brandon Houskeeper, a policy analyst at WPC, and Lisa Stiffler, journalism fellow at Sightline.
Please join InvestigateWest, the Washington Policy Center and Sightline Institute for an informative conversation about stormwater, the biggest threat to clean water in the Pacific Northwest. It’s next Wednesday, March 23, from Noon to 1:15 p.m., Conference room B/C, John Cherberg Building, Capitol Campus, Olympia.According to state officials, stormwater pollution is the top threat to the health of Puget Sound. Over the last several years Washington lawmakers have considered various measures to protect Puget Sound, including proposals to increase taxes or put fees on chemicals, such as oil and grease, to pay for projects to clean up stormwater. But with local and state budgets stretched to the breaking point, what actions can be taken to deal with this problem? What can be done about polluted runoff that will help the environment, but won’t hamper the economy Now is the time to have this discussion. The Department of Ecology is drafting regulations to require a more widespread use of “green” stormwater solutions and the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) is receiving public comments on its draft Strategic Science Plan, which will be used by the future Legislatures.Format: Panel discussion/Q-and-A followed by moderator-led interaction with audience members.Bring your questions and suggestions!Featuring: – William Ruckelshaus, former two-time administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and founding chair of the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council- Josh Baldi, special assistant to the director, Washington Department of Ecology- Grant Nelson, Association of Washington Business, Government RelationsPanel of questioners: – Brandon Houskeeper, Policy Analyst, Center for the Environment, Washington Policy Center, www.washingtonpolicy.org
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it's awarding $30 million to efforts to restore Puget Sound. Sounds like great news — except that it was completely overshadowed by extraordinarily sobering new science unveiled today: Acidity levels in the Sound, driven by the same processes that are unnaturally warming the planet, appear to be dissolving the shells of oyster larvae. And the weak acid is killing plankton at the base of the food chain — the one that provides sustenance for creatures all the way up to orcas. And people. Imagine a world without oysters. It means a lot more than just forgetting about oysters Rockefeller. Oysters are a basic part of the ecosystem, a big part of the processes that make the ocean what it is.And then, given the news about the plankton, start considering a world without most forms of sea life that we currently know. It's not a big leap. Even for someone who has chronicled bad environmental news for more than two decades, this is an extremely grave development. Folks, this is really significant news. News reports from the Seattle Times, seattlepi.com and the Puget Sound Business Journal — the early accounts that already are on line, at least* — seem to count this as just one more strike against the Sound. But it's more. We're talking about harmful changes across the ecosystem at the cellular level. This is huge — and hugely depressing — news.