Serving Franklin County, WA

Lawmakers miss salmon opportunity

The legislative session is over, and it had the potential to be very positive for salmon recovery. There was bipartisan support for habitat restoration. Legislators also had a huge amount of money to allocate because the tax on CO2 emissions generated far more money than anticipated.

Despite that, the Legislature failed to make significant progress on salmon. It is one more wasted opportunity to protect an iconic state species.

The most glaring example of the failure is in the supplemental operating budget, where legislators added about $2.1 billion in new spending. Of that amount, only $1.4 million – about 0.07% - was allocated to four small salmon recovery projects. Legislators spent as much to add government staff to manage the state’s CO2 tax as they did to help salmon.

There were also several bills that would have helped streamline salmon recovery, address threats to salmon, or fill funding gaps that failed to move forward.

First, the successes.

A bill to study the impact of predation by birds on salmon passed and is on the governor’s desk. The number of salmon killed by birds, seals and sea lions is an underappreciated obstacle to salmon recovery.

The Legislature also adopted legislation to address the tire-rubber compound 6PPD, which is shown to kill Coho salmon at low concentrations. The bill empowers the Department of Ecology to create regulations addressing the impact of 6PPD, requiring agency staff to “specifically consider the effect of regulatory actions on driver and passenger safety.” Regulatory processes can be hit and miss and this doesn’t address the impact of tires that are still on the road, but overall it is a good step to address a significant threat to salmon.

A bill allowing people to adopt a culvert to open fish habitat, like groups adopt highways, also passed. Nice, but not a game-changer.

By way of contrast, several other bills to help accelerate salmon recovery were killed.

A bill we helped craft to remove regulatory barriers for salmon-recovery projects – House Bill 2193 – died in committee. Legislation to target additional funding to salmon populations that are either near extinction or recovery – House Bill 2286 – also died. Another bill to address the spillage of untreated sewage into Puget Sound – House Bill 1365 – was killed. A review of salmon recovery efforts – House Bill 2463 – also died in committee. Several other bills, including some related to hatcheries, streamside habitat, and accelerating permitting also died.

Many of these bills had bipartisan sponsorship or support. The bills weren’t perfect, but the fact that even those with bipartisan support died early in the session is a lost opportunity to take a big step forward in salmon recovery at a time when salmon populations are struggling.

The capital budget was an area of mixed results, with increased funding offered only if voters keep the CO2 tax. This is an unnecessary restriction that smacks more of politics than a legitimate fiscal concern.

Of the additional $1.3 billion added to the capital budget, about $66 million was added – almost 5% of the increased spending. Given the many other demands, that is not insignificant. The best addition was the restoration of $25 million in funding to the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, which we recommended last year.

All of that funding, however, was made contingent on voters rejecting the repeal of the state’s tax on CO2 omissions. None of the $66 million takes effect until Jan. 1, 2025, but the budget specifically says that the spending is canceled if I-2117 repeals the Climate Commitment Act.

The claim is that if the act is repealed, the funding for these projects goes away. But the funding is already in the state treasury or will soon be. The $66 million in spending that is being held until 2025 could easily be funded using money the state already has.

Additionally, the unspent revenue from the act doesn’t go back to residents if voters support repeal of the law. It stays in the state treasury. Theoretically, legislators could re-allocate the funding next year, using the already collected revenue if the act is repealed.

If the argument is that salmon are a priority, but only if the voters increase taxes, they aren’t a priority.

The combination of bipartisan support and a budget surplus doesn’t come along very often. For salmon, the opportunities were lost in 2024.

—Todd Myers is the Washington Policy Center’s director for the Center on the Environment. Email him at [email protected].


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