Puget Soundkeeper and our partners are poised to take action to advance several bills that remain a top priority for legislators, despite the narrow focus of the 2021 legislative session. In September, state officials projected that Washington will experience a $4 billion budget shortfall for the next three years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s economic inactivity this year. Natural resource agencies could experience significant budget cuts as a result. Soundkeeper will be working to ensure that water quality in the Sound continues to be protected and not sacrificed due to outside budgetary considerations.
In 2021, Soundkeeper will continue to advance our plastics agenda and advocate for environmental justice. We are also poised to watchdog and defend essential funding to protect clean water. As part of this platform, we strongly support funding for municipalities to implement new Clean Water Act requirements for municipal sewage treatment plants, funding for increased water quality cleanups, and funding for salmon recovery.
Our 2021 legislative session policy priorities are:
SB5022 Plastics and Recycling Bill
- Reduces plastic pollution and transforms our recycling system by shifting recycling costs to the manufacturers, eliminating recycling costs for Washingtonians.
- Modelled after Producer Responsibility systems that are already in place in British Columbia, Brazil, Australia, and throughout the European Union.
- The Styrofoam Ban component would prohibit the use or sale of foam food containers, coolers, and packing peanuts in Washington that are prone to breaking into small pieces that are very hard to collect.
- The Minimum Recycled Content component for plastic beverage containers would require beverage containers to contain (on average for each manufacturer) increasing amounts of postconsumer recycled content up to 50% by January 1, 2031.
- The On-Request component for Straws, utensils, condiment packages and cup lids would make these plastic food service products optional. Beginning January 1, 2022, restaurants and food service businesses would provide them only on request or in self-serve bins at the counter.
- Will help stop marine debris at its source.
Funding for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants
- Soundkeeper strongly supports the Department of Ecology budget request for $9 million for a grant program for municipal sewage treatment plants. This funding will support smaller municipalities and help assure compliance with new requirements to control nitrogen pollution to Puget Sound.
- Inadequately treated human waste is having a significant impact on dissolved oxygen in Puget Sound. This insidious form of pollution causes blooms that deplete oxygen in our waters, causing dead zones and killing fish.
- Nitrogen, a nutrient found in human waste, is the primary culprit, and must be adequately removed to prevent further oxygen depletion.
- Currently, approximately 20% of the area in the greater Puget Sound does not meet dissolved oxygen standards mandated by the Clean Water Act, according to a 2019 state report.
- The Department of Ecology (Ecology) has determined that our municipal sewage treatment plants are the most significant source of nitrogen to Puget Sound.
- Soundkeeper participated on an Advisory Committee to advise Ecology in drafting general permit requirements. Soundkeeper advocated for a strong and new Clean Water Act Permit to regulate nitrogen from our municipal sewage treatment plants. We expect to see a draft Permit in 2021.
The HEAL Act
In solidarity with our frontline partners and allies, Soundkeeper is also supporting the Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act – a recommendation from the state’s Environmental Justice Task Force that adds a much needed racial equity lens to environmental and conservation work done by the state. The bill is also a part of the Resilient Future platform which aims to build a climate resilient future for generations to come. The HEAL Act prioritizes environmental justice and equitable participatory decision-making processes by:
- requiring environmental justice in state law and state action;
- making state government accountable to and collaborative with frontline communities;
- directing environmental investments to communities highly impacted by pollution.
Join us in safeguarding clean water in Washington this legislative session. Together, we protect and preserve Puget Sound and the communities and ecosystems that depend on healthy and clean water.
What to expect in 2021
2021 will be unlike any other legislative session. Due to the pandemic, the 2021 Washington State legislative session will be done remotely with a mix of virtual meetings and limited on-site votes. We expect that most legislative hearings will be online – a format that will present both opportunities and challenges for our elected representatives and the public.
Remote operations is a far cry from the in-person interaction that so many of us are accustomed to, and is largely dependent on high speed internet and digital acumen. But, our hope is that it will also enable more people from throughout the state to make their voices heard without having to travel to Olympia.
Soundkeeper also expects that this year, in addition to the budget, the legislature will be sharply focused on bills that advance economic recovery, public health, the housing crisis, and social justice.
We also expect legislative committees to dramatically reduce the number of bills they hear and act on, given the boundaries involved in holding a remote and virtual legislative session. For this reason, setting the stage in advance by signing up to receive legislative alerts from Soundkeeper will help you keep track of bills that prioritize healthy and safe clean water for all.