Governor Signs And Partially Vetoes Ambitious Washington Environmental Laws, Drawing Criticism


Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed a series of bills Monday designed to strengthen the environment in Washington state.

Inslee signed the Climate Commitment Act, environmental justice legislation, a clean fuels standard and bills related to reducing Washington’s single-use plastic waste and hydrofluorocarbon pollution.

“Our climate commitment, made by our legislature in 2020, is to cut climate pollution by over 50% in the next nine years, on our pathway to net-zero climate pollution by 2050,” Inslee said. “These bills go a long ways to getting us there.”

Inslee has been a strong advocate for the environment for years, and ran an unsuccessful campaign for president on those issues in 2020.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Billy Frank Jr. statue bill into law at Wa He Lut Indian School on Wednesday. Looking on, from left, were Nisqually Tribal Chairman Ken Choke, Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, state Rep. Debra Lekanoff and tribal councilman Willie Frank III. CREDIT: Tom Banse/N3

File photo. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Billy Frank Jr. statue bill into law at Wa He Lut Indian School in April. A set of climate bills that Inslee signed, and partially vetoed,  on Monday, May 17, 2021, drew criticism from members of his own party in the Legislature and some tribal members. CREDIT: Tom Banse/N3

The governor signed Senate Bill 5022, which will reduce plastic pollution in Washington by banning certain Styrofoam products, requiring that customers ask for plastic silverware and requiring more recyclable content in plastic bottles and other containers.

“This is the strongest recycling bill in the nation,” Inslee said while signing the measure at the Seattle Aquarium.

Washington became the sixth state to ban Styrofoam, such as foam coolers, packing peanuts and food service products such as hinged clamshells, plates and cups.

“I am thrilled that our new law is the most advanced in the nation,” said bill sponsor state Sen. Mona Das, a Democrat from Kent. “Last year we banned carry-home thin plastic bags. This year, we kept up the momentum and addressed another product that causes problems.”

Inslee also signed a trio of bills lumped together as the Climate Commitment Act, which will cap and reduce climate pollution and creates revenue for climate investments. It also seeks to reduce local air pollution in communities that are disproportionately burdened by environmental and public health impacts.

“With the Climate Commitment Act, Washington will translate the global aspirations outlined in the Paris Accords into reality, said state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, the sponsor.

“This cap-and-invest law … is the most ambitious climate action anywhere in America,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Among the measures in the Climate Commitment Act was House Bill 1050, which regulates hydrofluorocarbons. The bill sets strict regulations for ozone depleting substances to HFCs, which are primarily used in cooling and refrigeration.

The reduction called for in HB 1050 will reduce the climate impact of refrigerants used in air conditioners by roughly 70% and in commercial refrigeration systems by around 90%.

“HB 1050 demonstrates Washington’s climate leadership on the issue of super-polluting HFCs,” said Christina Theodoridi of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Inslee also signed Senate Bill 5141, known as the HEAL Act, which calls for taking steps to bring environmental justice to poor communities that often receive a disproportionate share of pollutants.

Inslee noted that life expectancy can be more than five years lower for people who live in poor areas with higher rates of pollution.

“Every Washingtonian deserves the right to breathe clean air,” Inslee said, noting that many children in poor communities suffer from asthma.

The bill requires state agencies conduct environmental justice assessments to see what agency actions could be done to help overburdened communities.

Inslee signed one of the bills at the Duwamish Longhouse in Seattle, where he vetoed one portion of the Climate Commitment Act that would have allowed tribes to prevent carbon revenues from funding projects that would desecrate their cultural resources and sacred sites. That drew criticism from the Washington BLM Alliance, who called the veto “a direct and imminent threat to tribal civil rights and protections.”

Another bill-signing ceremony at Shoreline College was disrupted for several minutes by a tribal protester. The man was protesting Inslee’s veto of a requirement for tribal consent for how the state spends its money fighting climate change.

Inslee said he’d be happy to talk with the man later, but he had bills to sign. The man was escorted from the room by campus security.

Inslee said he would hold a summit with tribal leaders to find a way to have proper government-to-government consultation over the state’s climate spending.

Meanwhile, Washington House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, criticized Inslee’s partial veto of House Bill 1091, the Clean Fuel Standard bill:

“The Constitution provides the governor only limited powers to veto legislation,” Jinkins said, adding that lawmakers will take the partial veto to court.

The governor also signed into law a clean fuels standard, joining California and Oregon in tackling the largest source of air pollution: transportation.

The standard will create new jobs across the state, from the building and operation of biofuels refineries that source materials from Washington farms and forests to building out an electric vehicle infrastructure. Additionally, the clean fuels standard will not raise fuel prices, Inslee said.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. Additional reporting contributed by KUOW’s John Ryan