All State Policies: Washington
Below are short descriptions of relevant state agencies/departments by policy topic, followed by more information on specific policies.
Drinking Water: Washington Department of Ecology manages the state’s water supply and protects water quality. Washington State Department of Health’s Office of Drinking Water’s mission is to “protect the health of the people of Washington by ensuring safe and reliable drinking water.” 85% of the population accesses drinking water through public water systems. About 725,000 Washingtonians use private wells, which are regulated by local health jurisdictions. Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) regulates private water companies operating in the state that have 100 or more connections or if the utility charges more than $557/year/customer.
Environmental Justice: Washington’s Environmental Justice Task Force was created in the state’s 2019-2021 operating budget (HB 1109) to “recommend strategies for incorporating environmental justice principles into how state agencies discharge their responsibilities.” The task force was composed of state agency representatives and community-based organization representatives from census tracts with high cumulative impact analysis with representation across a variety of sociodemographic factors, a tribal leader, as well as representatives from business, labor union, and agricultural interests. Upon completion of their report (see link in SB 5141 description), the Task Force ceased meeting. The HEAL Act established a 14-member Environmental Justice Council. The State of Washington is using an inter-agency, multi-pronged approach to integrate environmental justice considerations and principles across agencies and programs. The Department of Ecology and the Department of Health are two primary agencies spearheading EJ efforts.
Bolstering CWA Protections
Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act (Senate Bill 5135)
In 2018 SB 5135 was passed (Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act), regulating classes of high priority toxic chemicals in products. The Department of Ecology, in consultation with the Department of Health, will designate at least five priority chemicals and report their designations to committees of the legislature. Criteria for priority chemicals include, among others, chemicals that are a high concern for children, chemicals that are persistent/bioaccumulate, are present in consumer products, or degrades into more hazardous traits. “Every five years, and consistent with the timeline established…the department, in consultation with the department of health, must determine regulatory actions to increase transparency and to reduce the use of priority chemicals in priority consumer products.”
Priority chemicals identified in the law include:
- Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)
- Organohalogen flame retardants and flame retardants identified in RCW 70.240.010
- Phenolic compounds
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Implementation of the law is through a program called Safer Products for Washington.
Senate Bill 6413
Prohibited the discharge or use of class B firefighting foam, beginning July 2018, and prohibited the manufacturing or sale of PFAS-based firefighting foams, beginning July 2020. One drawback of the language is that it does allow class B 20 firefighting foam “where the inclusion of PFAS chemicals are required by federal law.” Firefighting personal protective equipment that contains PFAS chemicals must be sold with a written notice informing the purchaser of the presence of PFAS. “A manufacturer of class B firefighting foam in violation… of this act is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed five thousand dollars for each violation in the case of a first offense. Manufacturers, local governments, or persons that are repeat violators are subject to a civil penalty not to exceed ten thousand dollars for each repeat offense. Penalties collected… must be deposited in the state toxics control account.”
Senate Bill 6416
Washington Senior and Low-Income Utility Rate Discounts allows local governments in Washington to provide utility discounts for low-income or disabled customers. “Any county, city, town, public utility district or other municipal corporation, or quasi municipal corporation providing utility services may provide such services at reduced rates for low-income senior citizens or other low-income citizens.”
SB 5126 Climate Commitment Act
Signed into law on 5/17/2021, went into effect 7/25/2021, implementation timeline varies.
This Act established a greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-invest program. It is not solely an environmental justice-focused law, but does reiterate the goals and EJ framework of SB 5141. It furthers the Department of Ecology’s community engagement plan requirements. “The department must create and adopt a supplement to the department’s community engagement plan developed pursuant to 32 chapter . . ., Laws of 2021 (Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 33 No. 5141). The supplement must describe how the department will engage with overburdened communities and vulnerable populations in: (i) Identifying emitters in overburdened communities; and (ii) Monitoring and evaluating criteria pollutant emissions in those areas. (b) The community engagement plan must include methods for outreach and communication with those who face barriers, language or otherwise, to participation.”
Allocations of the carbon emissions reduction account, the climate investment account or the air quality and health disparities improvement account by the agencies must “establish a minimum of not less than 35 percent and a goal of 40 percent of total investments that provide direct and meaningful benefits to vulnerable populations within the boundaries of overburdened communities through: (a) The direct reduction of environmental burdens in overburdened communities; (b) the reduction of disproportionate, cumulative risk from environmental burdens, including those associated with climate change; (c) the support of community led project development, planning, and participation costs; or (d) meeting a community need identified by the community that is consistent with the intent of this chapter.”
SB 5141 Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act
Signed into law on 5/17/2021, went into effect 7/25/2021, implementation timeline varies.
The Act implements the recommendations of Washington’s Environmental Justice Task Force, requiring state agencies, including the departments of Ecology, Health, Natural Resources, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership) to conduct environmental justice assessments as part of their decision-making process (by July 1, 2023) and to annually report to the EJ Council their implementation status. The terms “cumulative environmental health impact,” “environmental benefits,” “environmental harm,” “environmental impacts,” “equitable distribution,” “overburdened community,” “vulnerable populations,” and “environmental justice” are all defined.
Defining Environmental Justice
“Environmental justice” means the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, rules, and policies. Environmental justice includes addressing disproportionate environmental and health impacts in all laws, rules, and policies with environmental impacts by prioritizing vulnerable populations and overburdened communities, the equitable distribution of resources and benefits, and eliminating harm.”
Environmental Justice Implementation Plans
By January 1, 2023, each covered agency must include their environmental justice implementation plans within their strategic plans. The Act specifies what that the EJ implementation plan must include agency-specific goals, actions, metrics, methods, and strategies related to environmental and health disparities, equitable community engagement, and compliance with existing federal and state laws and policies.
By July 1, 2022 “each covered agency must create and adopt a community engagement plan that describes how it will engage with overburdened communities and vulnerable populations as it evaluates new and existing activities and programs.”
By July 1, 2023 “each covered agency must, where practicable, take the following actions when making expenditure decisions or developing budget requests to the office of financial management and the legislature for programs that address or may cause environmental harms or provide environmental benefits: (a) Focus applicable expenditures on creating environmental benefits that are experienced by overburdened communities and vulnerable populations, including reducing or eliminating environmental harms, creating community and population resilience, and improving the quality of life of overburdened communities and vulnerable populations; (b) Create opportunities for overburdened communities and vulnerable populations to meaningfully participate in agency expenditure decisions; (c) Clearly articulate environmental justice goals and performance metrics to communicate the basis for agency expenditures; (d) Consider a broad scope of grants and contracting opportunities that effectuate environmental justice principles… (e) Establish a goal of directing 40 percent of grants and expenditures that create environmental benefits to vulnerable populations and overburdened communities.”
Each agency must publish a dashboard report starting in 2024 describing their EJ progress to the Office of Financial Management’s website.
Requires tribal consultation for EJ implementation plans, community engagement plans, or any significant agency actions that affect federally recognized Indian tribes’ rights and interests in their tribal lands.
The Department of Health must continue to develop and maintain an environmental health disparities map to track disparities over time, measure different indicators, and consult and solicit feedback from tribes, overburdened communities, institutions of higher learning, and relevant state agencies.
Environmental Justice Council: 14 members appointed by Governor, 7 community representatives, including 1 youth representative, 2 tribal community representatives, 2 EJ “practitioners or academics”, 1 business representative who is regulated by a covered agency, 1 labor union representative, 1 at-large representative. Supported by the Department of Health staff and works with the interagency work group. The Act gives the Council authority to make recommendations to amend laws to further EJ, provide assistance to state agencies to incorporate EJ principles into agency activities, and recommend funding strategies. However, the role of the Council “is purely advisory and council decisions are not binding.”