The Washington State Legislature adjourned Wednesday night, March 8, a day earlier than scheduled, after putting finishing touches on its budgets and completing a session that its share of controversies. Generally speaking, it was a good session for natural resources and the environment—one in which legislators and the Governor’s Office were highly responsive to tribal requests and needs. But there were exceptions.
COLUMBIA RIVER INITIATIVE
In the natural resource/environmental arena, one of the most contentious issues dealt with the Columbia River Initiative, a major agreement on water storage for Eastern Washington. The Governor did decide to sign HB 2860 into law, just a few days after it was passed, even though it excludes tribes from the table. Both she and DOE Director Jay Manning have expressed apologies for doing so, but said the benefits provided through the legislation were so far-reaching and positive that it needed to be signed. They also said the exclusion of the tribes was the work of legislators and not the Administration and that every effort will be made to incorporate tribal interests and concerns into the implementation of the bill. But tribes on both sides of the mountains have consistently expressed deep concern about this situation, and termed it a violation of trust.
EXAMPLES OF BILLS PASSED
The bill to require repair of failing septic systems (HB 1458) passed with strong bipartisan support. The bill, part of the Governor’s legislative package to implement early actions under her Puget Sound Initiative, requires local health authorities in areas like Hood Canal to identify and correct failing septic systems by 2012. Time extensions are allowed if local governments demonstrate substantial progress to meet deadline. A grant and loan program is authorized to assist low-income homeowners.
Oil Spill Bill
SB 6244, the Oil Spill Prevention bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, and a part of the Executive Request Package, passed and thus strengthened the ability of the Department of Ecology to determine the adequacy of oil spill response contingency plans. It is one of the bills DOE wants to work on with tribes, to assure that tribal interests and resources are used, where possible, to help prevent oil spills. The key contact on this legislation at the agency is Jon Neel, (360) 407-6905, [email protected].
There were numerous energy-related bills considered this session. Among those that passed were HB 2402, the Expediting Energy Facilities bill and SB 6508, Minimum Renewable Fuel Regulations (biodiesel) bill.
HB 2884, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, calls on DOE to adopt new reclaimed water rules in coordination with the Department of Health. The reclaimed water will come from a variety of sources and the plan will include stream augmentation.
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, SB 6151 calls for the relief of distressed aquifers in Eastern Washington, specifically the Odessa area, by permitting relief from the relinquishment statute. A Linville amendment attached to the bill requires water right holders to notify DOE in
writing within 180 days of the decision to suspend water use, requires notification for the choice to discontinue nonuse, and specifies that the act not exclude other laws relating to non-use of water.
Numerous bills were considered pertaining to water services. Among those that passed was SB 6369, the Excise Tax Exemptions bill, which exempts certain small systems to help enable them to do infrastructure improvements and meet Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.
Other Environmental Bills
Several environmental bills passed, in addition to those already mentioned, including:
SB 6428, creating a first of its kind electronic waste recycling system; HB 2322, phasing in a statewide ban on phosphorous-containing dishwasher detergent (improves dissolved oxygen levels in fresh and marine waters) and SB 5385, creating a new Invasive Species Council.
SOME BILLS THAT DIED
“Best Available Science”
HB 2815, the Best Available Science bill, which was opposed by tribes due to inadequate provisions for tribal participation and adaptive management.
Pilot Water Process
Although HB 3002, the Pilot Water Process bill, did not succeed this session, a tribal requested budget proviso for $150,000 did succeed, providing funding to the DOE. The funding is intended to support the initiation of tribal-request government-to-government-to-government NEPA-like process (tribal/state/federal) intended to facilitate the development of positive solutions to ongoing water management challenges. The state process is intended to support an anticipated related federal bill. In addition to the proviso, a support letter from the Governor is expected.
HB 1415 did not move this session. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, was intended to help expand control over the sewage ejection problem created by a massive increase in the cruise ship industry. Tribal concerns that the bill does not go far enough, particularly to protect tribal shellfish interests, led to its postponement until a major virus impact study is completed in 2007.
Small Scale Mining
The Small Prospectors bill, HB 2588, would have had major impacts on water quality due to the cumulative effects of increased beach mining operations. Tribes opposed it for this reason.
Specialized Forest Products (The “Huckleberry” bill)
HB 2749, sponsored by Reps. Brian Sullivan, D-Mikilteo, John McCoy, D-Tulalip and others, would have protected tribal interests, particularly as related to the gathering of huckleberries.
The House and Senate have agreed to a $1.3 billion supplemental budget and sent it to the Governor desk. She has 20 days after adjournment to act on the bills. everal budget provisos in the adopted supplementary operating, capital and transportation budgets affect tribes and tribal interests. Among these are the $11 million for the tribal/growers’ shellfish agreement (progress has also been made on the federal $22 million); the Governor’s requested $2.5 million for tribal participation in the Forests and Fish process, $150,000 for initiation of the pilot water process (described above), $200,000 for continuation of the TPEAC trial liaison positions and numerous funding provisos for habitat restoration projects.
DOE Director Jay Manning said, in an internal memo, “We just got through what was one of the best legislative sessions in this Agency’s history. We are still analyzing the budget, but it looks extraordinary.” Among other achievements, he pointed out that the agency has received 57 new FTEs, 69 million new dollars (including $36 million for Puget Sound, 17 FTEs for Puget Sound, 15 FTEs, $20 million this year and $200 million over the next 10 years to identify and develop new
water supply/stream restoration and conservation projects under the new Columbia River Water Management Act and 6 FTEs to implement the new Oil Spill bill. Other natural resource agencies also received substantial increases
As part of a package of $50 million in business tax cuts, the Timber Tax Incentives bill, SB 6874, has passed and been sent to the Governor. This bill also establishes the Forest and Fish Support Account through a surcharge to the timber industry. The account, which is sanctioned until 2024, supports the participation of federally recognized tribes in the Forests and Fish process. The surcharge is suspended if the receipts from it total $8 million during any biennium or if the federal government appropriates at least $2 million for tribal FF participation for any federal fiscal year. In addition to providing tax relief to the timber industry, the bill is in effect intended to fill gaps that might occur, at least in the amounts specified, in federal funding for tribal FF. To access this bill, click on: SB 6874