Support for Methow Valley climate goals
The recently concluded state legislative session in Olympia produced “bold and historic environmental progress” that will have lasting impacts on Washington and the Methow Valley, said Jasmine Minbashian of the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC).
The 2021 Washington Legislature passed legislation addressing an array of environmental and climate issues, including greenhouse gas emissions, fuel standards, environmental justice, forest health and water banking.
MVCC advocated for environmental legislation through its lobbying arm, the MVCC Action Fund, said Minbashian, who is executive director for both organizations.
“Several pieces of new legislation will greatly further the goals identified in the draft Methow Valley Climate Action Plan to create a resilient, carbon-neutral Methow and help our community adapt to the changes in our climate now and into the future,” Minbashian said. The Methow Valley Climate Action Plan is being developed by Resilient Methow, a collaborative effort led by more than 40 Methow-based nonprofit organizations, businesses, local agencies and community leaders.
While there were major gains in many areas of environmental and climate legislation, there is still a “dire need to prioritize a transportation package” to address the largest source of climate pollution in the state, Minbashian said. Achieving legislation to address environmental impacts and accessibility of transportation is a goal of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a network of environmental groups in Washington, Minbashian said.
While a transportation package was not achieved in the last legislative session, advocacy resulted in “historic proposals” for clean transportation, Minbashian said. “There is more to do but a new bar has been set” for potential future legislation, she said.
MVCC Action Fund, with assistance from the Environmental Priorities Coalition, provided a summary of successful environmental outcomes from the 2021 legislation session and impacts on the Methow Valley:
• Climate Commitment Act: The act targets greenhouse emissions from the “largest emitting industries” by allowing the state to sell “greenhouse gas emission allowances.” The money from those sales is then spent on green transportation, clean energy and other climate solutions. This is the first climate legislation in the country to lead the way to net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. As the Methow continues to grow, this bill will help the community create a low-carbon, efficient, livable, resilient and affordable built environment. Minbashian said MVCC Action Fund is “deeply disappointed,” however, by Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent veto of provisions in the bill requiring consultation with tribes and providing protections for Native American sacred sites and burial grounds.
• Clean Fuel Standard: Requires the state to cut carbon emissions from transportation by 20 percent by transitioning to electric vehicles or cleaner fuels and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector – the Methow’s number one source of direct carbon emissions. After wildland fires, transportation from passenger vehicles is the leading source of human-caused carbon emissions, as identified in a Methow emissions report commissioned by Resilient Methow.
• The Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act: Uses recommendations from the Environmental Justice Task Force to keep vulnerable populations from bearing the brunt of the damage caused by climate change by directing agencies to integrate environmental justice into its processes, policy implementation, and funding processes. This will ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable populations are not left behind, and supports the Methow Valley Climate Action Plan’s goal of affordable access to climate solutions, housing, and infrastructure needs such as broadband.
• Working Families Tax Credit: Studies have shown that Washington state has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country, and this policy is an important step to address the disproportionate tax burden on low-income and middle-income earners. This bill will directly benefit Methow residents who are struggling to make ends meet by providing a credit for a portion of sales taxes paid by eligible taxpayers. Starting in 2023, Washington residents will be able to claim the credit in the form of a remittance/refund. To qualify for this credit, citizens must have filed a tax return in Washington and have qualified for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit amount ranges from $300 to $1,200 depending on the number of qualifying children.
• Long-Term Forest Health: This bill directs investments in wildfire resilience, including forest health, community preparedness and wildfire emergency response, as well as substantial funding to implement it. This will provide important necessary funding to help advance the Methow Valley as a fire adapted community and provide funding to increase the pace and scale of forest health restoration treatments, such as prescribed burning and thinning.
• Payments in Lieu of Taxes to Counties from WDFW: This bill improves the method the state uses to pay counties for payments in lieu of taxes for lands owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Counties distribute these payments to local taxing districts in the same manner they distribute property taxes supporting things like schools, emergency services and noxious weed control. This bill will increase the amount of money that Okanogan County is eligible to receive through this program – over $500,000 annually.
• Capital and Operating Budgets: The budget includes earmarks to support managing the Methow Valley’s finite water resources to meet the needs of the Methow Valley’s growing community, including $2 million to start a local water banking program to keep water in the basin. The $2 million for the Methow Valley is part of a $12 million statewide program advocated for by Trout Unlimited as well as government and tribal representatives. This supports one of the major goals identified in the Methow Valley Climate Action Plan – to retain local water rights.
The capital budget package also secured $448 million for projects statewide including:
• $16.3 million for Community Forest grants that provide clean drinking water, protect working forest jobs, and keep economic gains local.
• $75 million in stormwater grants for green infrastructure projects from Spokane to Walla Walla to Bellingham.
• $81 million for clean energy projects like weatherization for low-income households, retrofits of public buildings, and grid modernizations.
“One of the biggest investments seen throughout the budget is evolving environmental programs and funding processes to center racial equity and environmental justice,” Minbashian said. “This will improve transparency and accessibility as the state makes decisions, will utilize and enhance data systems on health disparities, and ensure that the state is better serving the needs of frontline communities.”