Congress increases funding for Puget Sound Geographic Program to $33 million

More good news. Thanks to all who worked to push this forward, including Olympic Peninsula House of Representatives Derek Kilmer.This continues to show how expensive it is to recover the vast resources that we have mismanaged for more than a century. This money is all about ‘green’ jobs, as important as our military budget and other supposedly ‘sacrosanct’ parts of the budget that never seem to be questioned at all. We will need billions more as climate change kicks in, in ever larger ways. Luckily, our state and federal representatives seem to get it and are fighting for the money we need.

Attached are two announcements regarding funding for Puget Sound protection and recovery efforts, including:

  • Congress increases funding for Puget Sound Geographic Program to $33 million; and
  • FFY2019 Strategic Initiative Advisory Team (SIAT) Funding Recommendations and LIO-selected NTAs for National Estuary Program (NEP) Geographic Funds.

OLYMPIA— The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed a funding bill that will provide $33 million in FY2020 for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound Geographic Program, which is an increase of $5 million over FY2019 funding levels. The President is signing the bill into law on Friday.

The Puget Sound Geographic Program funds implementation of the Puget Sound Action Agenda, the long- term plan for Puget Sound recovery developed by the Puget Sound Partnership.

“We know what we need to do to recover Puget Sound, our salmon, and our endangered orcas,” said Laura Blackmore, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “This very welcome funding increase will help accelerate action on the ground to protect and restore this very special place.”

“We are excited to learn of the increase in federal funding for Puget Sound restoration,” said Bill Dewey, director of public affairs for Taylor Shellfish Farms and one of the business representatives on the Puget Sound Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board. “The support from Congress has been instrumental in achieving water quality upgrades in shellfish growing areas all around the Sound.”

The Puget Sound Geographic Program provides funding to state, local, and tribal governments to implement projects to improve water quality, enhance fish passage, increase salmon habitat, and protect shorelines. Several Washington State agencies manage programs to address the three Strategic Initiatives for Puget Sound preservation and recovery: storm-water, habitat, and shellfish.

“It is incredibly rewarding to have the federal government support the amazing work our region is doing to restore Puget Sound,” said Heather Bartlett, water quality program manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology, which leads the Stormwater Strategic Initiative. “Our state has dedicated millions of dollars to restore this critical ecosystem and protect our iconic orca, salmon, and natural resource economy. With this additional federal funding, we will continue to make progress towards a healthy and resilient Puget Sound.”

“The Puget Sound Geographic Program has played an integral role filling a critical funding niche in our regional recovery effort,” said Kelly Susewind, director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Through the program’s Habitat Strategic Initiative, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in partnership with Department of Natural Resources, have slowly bridged gaps across institutional silos to achieve on-the-ground change. There is still much to be done, and this funding comes at a critical juncture for the ecosystem that supports our region’s imperiled salmon populations and Southern Resident Killer Whales. The program’s broad support really reinforces its significance to the health of our region, and this investment will continue to move the needle towards a healthier Puget Sound.”

“Many of Washington’s communities were built on our trademark salmon runs. Unfortunately, we’re seeing salmon runs decline, which is hurting our culture, our economy, and our iconic orcas,” said Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, the director of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. “I’m heartened to see increased federal investments in Puget Sound, and thankful that our state has such strong congressional leadership fighting on its behalf.”
Additional recovery initiatives receive funding

The Battle Over Fish Farming In The Open Ocean Heats Up, As EPA Permit Looms – OPB

The Feds look to open up aquaculture into the open ocean. While this project is in the Gulf of Mexico, the threat to us here is very real. After watching the incredibly incompetent way that our legislators allowed the industry in this state to function with virtually no over-site because they fashioned the laws back in the 70s/80s to split enforcement  between two different government agencies (Department of Ecology and DNR) ending in the disastrous blow out of the Cypress Island pens. This finally led to regulation and a shutting down of the industry in this state, and we will never know the true cost of what allowing these pens into our waters meant to our endangered salmon. Old timers I interviewed talked of how wild runs collapsed in the Agate Pass area after the pens went in to the south side of Bainbridge Island. They suspected the wild fish were somehow compromised by the pens. While many other issues were simultaneously showing-up, rampant development, over-fishing in the Strait, etc. the old timers thought the timing highly suspicious. Now this. Whatever could go wrong?

States control up to three miles offshore from their coastlines, but between three and 200 miles falls under federal control. Attempts to introduce aquaculture in federal waters have so far been stymied by concerns about aquaculture’s impact on ocean ecosystems and wild fisheries.

https://www.opb.org/news/article/npr-the-battle-over-fish-farming-in-the-open-ocean-heats-up-as-epa-permit-looms/

Proposed EPA Rules Could Limit State And Tribal Power To Block Infrastructure Projects -OPB

Over the last few years, since Trump came to power, I have been hearing about companies, some here in the NW engaged in shellfish farming, that have been quietly spending tens of thousands of dollars lobbying the Federal government to strip away the capability of local jurisdictions, such as county, state and tribal governments, to create local rules that could stymie the businesses operations or licensing by the federal government, under the Clean Water Act. A goal of theirs has been to take away the ability of local environmentally concerned organizations to sue, other than at the federal level.  Now, it appears the Trump administration is acting on their lobbying efforts. Think about fish farming, pulp mills, or any other activity covered under the Clean Water Act.

The rules specifically would restrict these non-federal governments’ authority to review the water quality impacts of projects that require a federal permit or license. These projects range from pipelines to hydropower facilities to dredging — any development that result in “discharge” into U.S. waters.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before October 21, 2019. ADDRESSES: Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–HQ– OW–2019–0405, at https://www.regulations.gov.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lauren Kasparek, Oceans, Wetlands, and Communities Division, Office of Water (4504–T), Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460; telephone number: (202) 564–3351; email address: cwa401@epa.gov.

Read the whole legal document (very long, very difficult to follow if not a environmental lawyer) at

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2019-08/documents/cwa401certification_2060-af86_nprm_20190807_prepublication_version.pdf

https://www.opb.org/news/article/federal-water-quality-rules-energy-infrastructure/

Governor Inslee Signs Slew of Orca Protection Bills – Seattle Times and others

This week saw the signing of a variety of bills that came out of the Orca Task Force, put together by Governor Inslee to identify issues that could theoretically help save the resident Orca pod from extinction. While these bills are not the radical (yet realistic) idea of breaching the Snake River dams as many (including this blog) would like to see, they do address a group of problems that are facing recovery and protection of the Salish Sea.

Senate Bill 5135 was written to allow Department of Ecology to ban certain PCBs and PFAs which cause cancer and are found in high amounts in Orca bodies. They may be hampering the ability for them to have healthy  offspring and also may impact their health. Toxic-Free Future was a champion of this bill. Congratulations to them and their supporters. This has been a long hard fight for many years.

Senate Bill 5577 pushes boats farther away from whales, mandating 300 yard exclusion zones. This is not as far as many in the Orca task force wanted, but is at least better than it is currently. There is huge pressure from whale scientists to push back even further, but the whale watch industry is too powerful for Inslee to override.

The bills digest is as follows:

Finds a person guilty of a natural resource infraction if the person causes a vessel or other object to: (1) Approach within four hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or(2) Exceed a speed greater than seven knots over ground at any point located within one-half nautical mile of the whales.

Prohibits commercial whale watching operators from approaching or intercepting within six hundred fifty yards in the direction of the whales.

Requires a commercial whale watching license for businesses engaged in commercial whale watching activities.Requires the department of fish and wildlife to implement a limited-entry whale watching license program for the inland waters of the state for all whale species.

What you don’t see is an implementation of even greater enforcement in this bill. It is understood though that Fish and Wildlife may be getting a bigger budget do that.

House Bill 1578 – This bill strengthens our oil-spill prevention portfolio. As some may remember, this author and many dozens of other environmentalists helped push through the rescue tug at Neah Bay in the last decade, with the help of then Representative Van de Wege. This time, Representative Tharinger was part of the sponsors of the new bill. It’s digest reads:

Creates new requirements designed to reduce the current, acute risk from existing infrastructure and activities of an oil spill that could: (1) Eradicate our southern resident killer whales;(2) Violate the treaty fishing rights of federally recognized Indian tribes;(3) Damage commercial fishing prospects;(4) Undercut many aspects of the economy that depend on the Salish Sea; and(5) Harm the health and well-being of residents.

Declares an intent to spur international discussions among federal, state, provincial, and industry leaders in the United States and Canada to develop an agreement for the shared funding of an emergency rescue tug available to vessels in distress in the narrow Straits of the San Juan Islands and other boundary waters.

Currently tankers bigger than 125k dead weight tons are forbidden inside the Strait, past Dungeness Lighthouse. Tankers from 40 to125K tons dead weight are allowed to operate with tug escort. Currently a huge threat is to tugs towing bunker and other fuels. Some have sunk, such as the barge that spilled out on the coast near Neah Bay some years back.

The new law forces these tankers and tug towing barges to have escort tugs starting in 2020. If the tug or tanker is empty,  they do not need an escort tug.

The bill also strengthens the existing work being done on oil spill preparedness and establishes a new oil spill emergency response system with coordination between the State, U.S. Federal, Tribal and Canadian agencies. While there has been coordination before, this system is new.

There is a new reporting regime for oil processing facilities receiving crude oil shipments by rail, which will require them to report to the state these shipments and their routes. This may end up getting taken into court by the oil industry, as it’s unclear to this author whether the State has authority to require this under current Federal law.

Bill 1579 – While part of this bill allows greater catch limits on predator fish:

The commission shall adopt rules to liberalize bag limits for bass, walleye, and channel catfish in all anadromous waters of the14state in order to reduce the predation risk to salmon smolts.

The real teeth in this bill is the work done by Sound Action and other environmental and tribal lobbyists, along with the Department of Natural Resources to implement much stronger rules and penalties for implementing bulk heads along the nearshore of the Sound.  (full disclosure: this author is Board President of Sound Action as of this writing).

The conversion of shoreline to bulkheads  has been going on with little scientific understanding of the scope of damage to the spawning habitat of forage fish. Forage fish are food for salmon and other larger fish. Sound Action has existed specifically to challenge improper or incomplete Hydraulic Permit Applications (HPAs) from DNR that affect this habitat.

UPDATE BASED ON GOVERNOR’S VETO OF ONE SECTION: While The bill was also helped through by a section on a series of three ‘demonstration’ projects inserted by Senator Van de Wege on behalf of farmers coping with flood plain issues in Watcom, Snohomish and Gray’s Harbor County. Governor Inslee decided that these projects did not come out of the Orca Task force recommendations and were not in alignment with the needs of protecting fish habitat, but rather protecting farm land and exploiting river gravel. His veto of that section was in alignment with the opposition  by environmentalists and Tribes because of the stated intention of the backers of the language to ‘extract gravel’ from these rivers. What is needed in the future to address these problems should involve something similar to  a version of the highly successful Dungeness River Management Team, which brought together all the stakeholders on that river for the last 20 years to identify and then come up with appropriate solutions rather than leap to conclusions not based on science.

Anyone wanting to understand the work that the Dungeness River Management Team has done can view the short video I did for them a few years ago, on their 20th Anniversary.

 

The language that the proponents of Senator Van de Wege’s bill wanted, was to simply move to solution, based on assumptions and not science. They need, as the governor pointed out in his veto to at least have to go through the process to create a team of stakeholders, not just from the farm community, but from individuals and state scientists to come up with appropriate solutions.

So all in all, congratulations to the organizations that spent hundreds of hours in the Orca Task Force, and thanks to Governor Inslee for getting this done and helping drive these key bills into law! We still have a long way to go to save the resident pod, and there is no guarantee any of these bills will actually turn the tide to restore them to health.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/gov-inslee-signs-range-of-bills-aimed-at-helping-endangered-orcas/

Environmentalists see key window of opportunity to help Orcas survive – KUOW

I have no idea whether these bills will  actually be enough to save the Orca, but they are progress. They represent thousands of hours of people’s work (many volunteering their time) to come up with solutions from their specific subject expertise.  They offer some hope but ultimately, the food is needed now. Time will tell whether 1579 will lead to behavior change in WDFW, but they are the ones that signed up for it.

Four bills making their way through the legislature seek to lessen the biggest threats facing the killer whales: water pollution and noise from boat traffic, dwindling salmon runs, and the risk of oil spills in the Salish Sea.
HB 1579, “Implementing recommendations of the southern resident killer whale task force related to increasing Chinook abundance,” which is expected to cost $1.1 million in 2019-2021.
HB 1578, “Reducing threats to southern resident killer whales by improving the safety of oil transportation,” which is expected to cost $1.4 million in 2019-2021 and over $2 million every two years after that.
SB 5135, “Preventing toxic pollution that affects public health or the environment,” which is expected to cost $1 million in 2019-2021.
SB 5577, “Concerning the protection of southern resident Orca whales from vessels,” which is expected to cost close to $1.6 million in 2019-2021. Anna Boiko-Weyrauch reports. (KUOW)

Environmentalists see key window of opportunity to help Orcas survive

Legislation to help endangered orcas keeps moving toward approval – Watching Our Waterways

Chris Dunagan on the handful of environmental bills moving through the Olympia sausage making machine.

Members of the governor’s orca task force this week expressed hope and a bit of surprise as they discussed their recommendations to help the orcas —recommendations that were shaped into legislation and now have a fairly good chance of passage. Over the years, some of their ideas have been proposed and discussed — and ultimately killed — by lawmakers, but now the plight of the critically endangered southern resident killer whales has increased the urgency of these environmental measures — including bills dealing with habitat, oil-spill prevention and the orcas themselves. Chris Dunagan reports. (Watching Our Water Ways)

Legislation to help endangered orcas keeps moving toward approval

Massive public-lands bill passes Congress with big implications for Washington state – Seattle Times

Some very good news for a change.

The U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday passed a wide-ranging public lands bill with big implications for Washington state, including measures that would greenlight federal involvement in a multibillion-dollar Yakima water project, reauthorize a key conservation fund and prevent new mining in the Methow Valley.

Read the whole story here.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/massive-public-lands-bill-passes-congress-with-big-implications-for-washington-state/?utm_source=referral&utm_medium=mobile-app&utm_campaign=ios

 

 

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