Environment wins big in 2021 Legislative Session

This year, even under challenging circumstances, the Washington state legislature made significant progress to protect our state’s air, water, and climate.

Washington environmental advocates and organizers stand with Governor Jay Inslee in front of a tank at the Seattle Aquarium.
Advocates and organizers, including Environment Washington Wildlife Over Waste Campaign Associate Mandy Apa (front left) with Governor Jay Inslee at the Seattle Aquarium following the signing of SB 5022, which bans plastic foam and reduces plastic waste.
Lillie Wright

Environment wins big in 2021 Legislative Session

This year, even under challenging circumstances, the Washington state legislature made significant progress to protect our state’s air, water, and climate. Here are the highlights:

Washington passes a sweeping plastics bill that bans polystyrene foam and reduces other plastic waste

In a huge victory for clean water and Washington’s wildlife, the state legislature passed a plastics bill that bans polystyrene foam packing peanuts, foodware and coolers, joining six other states with bans on egregious single-use plastic. The bill also makes restaurant extras like plastic cutlery and condiment packets by request only, and establishes a minimum requirement for recycled content used in new plastics. Washington will become the first state to comprehensively require that customers opt in to single-use utensils, straws, cup lids and condiments, including through third party delivery services. Governor Inslee signed the bill on May 17th at a ceremony at the Seattle Aquarium (see photo above).

Environment Washington worked with a broad coalition, Plastic Free Washington, and Senator Mona Das to introduce this bill, which is the strongest bill of its kind in the country. Our members called and emailed legislators and helped us get this bill over the finish line. Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our environment for generations, and this legislation is an important step in reducing our state’s plastic and foam pollution.

Washington takes a strong step toward protecting kids from lead in school drinking water

The Washington legislature passed and Governor Inslee signed the Bruce Speight Act, which outlines measures to address the problem of lead in school drinking water. This bill is a critical first step to protect Washington’s kids, teachers, and school staff from the dangers of lead in schools, requiring routine testing and remediation of lead-bearing fixtures. It also honors the legacy of our friend Bruce Speight, Environment Washington’s former Director, who passed away in September of 2019.

Bruce was a champion for clean water in Washington and worked tirelessly to progress our Get the Lead Out campaign throughout his time at Environment Washington, writing reports documenting widespread contamination of schools’ water, lobbying in Olympia, getting the word out in the media, and building coalitions of health professionals, environmental advocates, and, most importantly, concerned parents. After his passing, we’ve been honored to carry Bruce’s work forward.

Representative Gerry Pollett championed this bill, and we are so grateful for his leadership throughout the legislative process. This victory would not have been possible without the Washingtonians who called, emailed, and met with legislators, signed petitions, and made their voices heard on this critical issue.

Washington lays out roadmap to increased electric vehicle adoption

The state legislature also passed House Bill 1287, which will help Washington get more electric vehicles on the road in a number of concrete ways. House Bill 1287 requires the state’s Department of Ecology to develop a mapping and planning tool for electric vehicle adoption, letting consumers know where they can charge their electric vehicles and providing key data about future charging needs. The bill also requires that utilities and building codes model and prepare for increased electricity demand as more people are driving and charging electric vehicles. Governor Inslee signed the bill on May 13th.

The bill would also have set the most aggressive clean cars target in the nation by establishing a non-binding goal that all vehicles sold in Washington be electric by 2030. However, this piece of the bill was tied to a road user fee, causing Governor Inslee to veto this portion of the bill. Governor Inslee has indicated that he is still in favor of establishing an aggressive electric vehicle target, and in his statement said, “I am committed to getting to zero emission transportation as quickly as possible. In fact, Washington is leading the way by building electric vehicle charging infrastructure, procuring zero-emission transit vehicles and building electric ferries, providing financial incentives for electric vehicle purchases, and advocating for a national 100% zero-emission vehicle standard by 2035.”

Other Bills

Though the passage of these three priority bills would have made for an active and successful legislative session by themselves, the Washington state legislature considered, debated, and in some cases passed other bills to protect our state’s clean air, clean water, and open space. One such bill is House Bill 1091, signed by Governor Inslee on May 17th, which establishes a clean fuel standard for Washington and spurs the use of increasingly cleaner transportation fuels in the state. By incentivizing the development of cleaner alternative fuels and penalizing fuel producers that don’t meet cleaner standards, the legislation aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel by 20% by 2035.

Other bills on Environment Washington’s legislative agenda include establishing an extended producer responsibility program for plastic trash, giving consumers the tools and information they need to repair their stuff, and expanding the scope of and access to community solar projects in Washington. Though these bills did not make it out of committee this year, we look forward to supporting and advocating for them in future sessions, as dealing with plastic and electronic waste and addressing climate change are going to continue to be challenges facing our state.

Finally, we would like to say thank you. Thank you to the people who wrote to or called their legislators. Thank you to the legislators who continued to be environmental champions during a stressful virtual session. And thank you to the Environment Washington members who were with us every step of the way.


Lillie Wright

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