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Environmental groups identify top legislative priorities as Legislature convenes in Olympia

The Capitol dome is seen across Capitol Lake in Olympia. Lawmakers have passed a bill banning defenses based on a victim's gender identity or sexual orientation.
Parker Miles Blohm
The Capitol dome is seen across Capitol Lake in Olympia. The Legislature convenes today for the 2020 session, and environmental groups are identifying their top priorities.

As the new session gets underway in Olympia today, environmental groups have released their legislative priorities.

Items topping their list this year are renewed attempts to pass a clean fuels standard to reduce carbon pollution from transportation, as well as a statewide ban on thin, single-use plastic bags. 

A new priority this year has to do with restoring salmon habitat around Puget Sound, which is important for endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Nick Abraham with the Environmental Priorities Coalition says it aims to revise the current policy, in which development projects must show "no net loss" of salmon habitat. It would instead require an increase.

“What we’ve seen is that having a policy of no net loss is really not working,” Abraham said. “We are losing ground. We lose around 800 acres of habitat and forest land a year. And what we’re trying to implement in our state is a policy of net ecological gain.”  

The policy is a recommendation from Gov. Jay Inslee's orca task force, which he convened in May 2018 and wrapped up its work at the end of last year.  The "no net loss" proposal was one of the last policy recommendations added into its final report.

As for single-use plastic bags, they are hard to recycle and often fly out of landfills into the ocean, where they can wreak havoc on wildlife. There's increasing awareness of all of this, says Heather Trim of Zero Waste Washington. 

Trim says major food chains and independent grocers supported the bag ban proposed last session, as momentum grew with nine new jurisdictions passing local bag bans last year.

Among the bans Trim cited: Kitsap County at large, Bremerton, Port Orchard, Bainbridge Island, Kent, Anacortes and more.

The statewide proposal would require customers to pay 8 cents for paper or thick plastic bags, if they don't bring their own. And it would apply to all retailers, including restaurants — with some exemptions for small bags to hold produce or other potentially wet things.

The main opposition to the bag ban last year came from the pulp and paper association. It claimed the ban would have a negative effect on employment. The Washington Environment Coalition thinks they can overcome that this session.

The Environmental Priorities Coalition includes more than 20 groups statewide. Members vote on up to five bills they’ll join forces to advocate for in Olympia.

This session, they're also working on tightening the state's limits on greenhouse gas pollution to align with the latest climate science. The current limits were adopted in 2008.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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