Washington state has a long and complex history when it comes to environmental policy. Over the years, the state has been home to some of the most significant environmental battles in the country, as well as some of the most innovative solutions to environmental challenges. In this blog, we will explore the history of environmental policy in Washington state, from its early beginnings to the present day.
Early History of Environmental Policy in Washington State
Washington state’s history of environmental policy dates back to the early 20th century, when concerns about conservation and the protection of natural resources began to emerge. In 1913, the state established its first park, the 6,000-acre Mount Rainier National Park, which helped to set the stage for the development of state parks and recreational areas in the coming years.
The state’s first significant environmental legislation, however, did not come until the 1960s, when concerns about air and water pollution began to grow. In 1967, the state legislature passed the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which required state agencies to assess the environmental impacts of major projects before they could be approved. This was a significant milestone for environmental policy in Washington state, as it established the legal framework for environmental review and regulation that remains in place to this day.
Environmental Policy in the 1970s and 1980s
In the 1970s and 1980s, environmental policy in Washington state began to evolve and expand in response to growing concerns about pollution and other environmental issues. The state passed a number of significant pieces of environmental legislation during this time, including the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) in 1989, which established a tax on hazardous substances to pay for the cleanup of contaminated sites.
During this time, Washington state also became a leader in the fight against acid rain, a form of air pollution caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest. In 1985, the state joined with Oregon and California to form the West Coast Acid Rain Coalition, which successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. This legislation required coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which significantly reduced the impact of acid rain on the West Coast.
Another significant environmental battle in Washington state during this time was the fight against the proposed Northern Tier Pipeline, which would have transported crude oil from Canada to refineries in Washington state. The pipeline would have crossed a number of environmentally sensitive areas, including the Columbia River and the Olympic National Park, and was vigorously opposed by environmental groups and Native American tribes. In 1987, after several years of protests and legal battles, the project was abandoned.
Environmental Policy in the 1990s and 2000s
In the 1990s and 2000s, environmental policy in Washington state continued to evolve and expand, with a growing focus on sustainable development and the protection of endangered species. In 1991, the state established the Growth Management Act, which required local governments to develop comprehensive plans for managing growth and preserving open space. This legislation was aimed at reducing urban sprawl and promoting more sustainable development practices.
During this time, Washington state also played a key role in the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Pacific Northwest. In 1995, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife began working with Canadian authorities to capture and transport gray wolves from British Columbia to Washington state, where they were released into the wild. The wolf population in the state has since grown to more than 120 animals, making it one of the most successful reintroduction efforts in the country.
Another significant environmental battle in Washington state during this time was the fight against the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, which would have been one of the largest open-pit mines in the world. The mine would have threatened the habitat of several species of salmon that migrate through Washington state’s rivers, and was opposed by environmental groups and Native American tribes. In 2014, after years of legal battles and public pressure, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed determination under the Clean Water Act that would have placed significant restrictions on the project. In 2020, the Trump administration reversed this decision, but in 2021, the Biden administration announced it would initiate a process to undo the decision and protect the Bristol Bay region from the Pebble Mine.
Recent Environmental Policy in Washington State
In recent years, environmental policy in Washington state has continued to evolve, with a focus on climate change and clean energy. In 2019, the state legislature passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which requires the state’s electricity to be 100% carbon-free by 2045. The legislation also requires the state to transition to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, with a focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification of the transportation sector.
Washington state has also been at the forefront of efforts to address plastic pollution. In 2019, the state became the first in the country to pass a ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores, and has since expanded the ban to include other types of single-use plastic packaging. The state has also established a Plastics Reduction Task Force to develop strategies for reducing plastic pollution in the state.
In 2021, the Washington state legislature passed the Evergreen Communities Act, a landmark piece of legislation that aims to promote sustainable development and address the impacts of climate change. The act establishes a framework for the creation of “Evergreen Communities,” which are defined as communities that are designed to be walkable, bikeable, and accessible by public transportation, with a mix of land uses and a focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Under the Evergreen Communities Act, local governments are encouraged to adopt policies and regulations that support the development of Evergreen Communities, such as zoning changes to allow for more dense and diverse development, and the creation of incentives for developers to build sustainable projects. The act also creates a grant program to provide funding for projects that promote sustainable development and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Washington state has a long and complex history when it comes to environmental policy, with a focus on protecting natural resources, reducing pollution, and promoting sustainable development. The state has been home to some of the most significant environmental battles in the country, from the fight against the Northern Tier Pipeline to the opposition to the Pebble Mine in Alaska. Washington state has also been a leader in the fight against acid rain and the reintroduction of gray wolves to the Pacific Northwest.
In recent years, environmental policy in Washington state has continued to evolve, with a focus on addressing climate change and reducing plastic pollution. The Clean Energy Transformation Act, which requires the state’s electricity to be 100% carbon-free by 2045, and the ban on single-use plastic bags are just two examples of the state’s efforts to tackle these pressing environmental challenges.
Overall, Washington state’s history of environmental policy serves as an important reminder of the ongoing need for strong environmental regulations and protections, as well as the importance of collaboration and public engagement in shaping environmental policy.