New law pushes Washington cities and counties to plan for climate change

Photo courtesy Getty Images via the Washington State Standard

Planning for severe storms, flooding, wildfires and poor air quality will soon be required for Washington cities and counties.

A new law passed by the Washington State Legislature this year requires local governments to consider climate change in their 20-year comprehensive plans beginning in 2025. The Department of Commerce released early guidance last month for how to do that.

The guidance focuses on two new sections that must be included in long-range plans: lowering greenhouse gas emissions and raising defenses against climate-related threats. With the law, the state isn’t mandating that the localities meet specific emissions targets, just that they commit to strategies that can help with reductions.

Sarah Fox, climate program manager for the Department of Commerce, said climate change has affected the state in many ways in recent years. The guidance helps cities and counties reduce their impact on the planet as well as improve their ability to withstand the harsher effects of climate change, she said.

“A more resilient city means you’re not suffering the effects of poor planning,” she said.

The new requirements came out of a controversial bill that passed the Legislature last session. Along with adding a climate element, the state’s 11 largest counties and their cities with populations greater than 6,000 people must update their transportation and land use plans.

The bill passed 57-41 in the state House of Representatives and 29-20 in the state Senate.

During floor debates, Republicans argued that the policy would stifle growth and hinder housing construction.

“It adds bureaucracy, it slows us down, it adds cost, and it goes in absolutely the wrong direction for our state,” Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said back in April.

But supporters said the proposal would help cities grow sustainably amid a changing environment. Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, said it was an opportunity to create “a meaningful blueprint” for the future that all residents deserve.

The greenhouse gas emissions and resilience requirements can be met in a number of ways, and Commerce gives jurisdictions examples for how to incorporate them into their plans.

They include things like reducing vehicle miles traveled, building denser housing near transit, expanding transit, developing more parks, and advancing environmental justice.

Fox said cities and counties have to provide an update in five years with any progress they’ve made toward implementing their climate plans, including any vehicle-miles-traveled goals. That will allow the state to see if voluntary targets set by local jurisdictions are working, and whether making those required at the state level would be a way to move forward.

Some counties already doing the work

Clark, Skagit, Thurston and Whatcom counties are the first counties to have to follow the requirement in 2025. The other counties are gradually added over the years.

According to the Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington, most jurisdictions have some type of plan or document attempting to address emissions and climate issues. These include Snohomish County and the cities of Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.

Some have full climate action plans that include goals for emissions reductions and how to improve climate resilience. In the new guidance, Commerce pointed to Spokane, King and Thurston counties climate action plans as examples that other jurisdictions can follow.

Other counties, such as Benton, Franklin and Clark, only have documents, often a hazard mitigation plan, that references climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. But these plans don’t necessarily include steps for addressing emissions or climate hazards.

Those counties will likely be starting from scratch when it comes to adding a climate element.

For counties and cities that may need to do more work on their plans, Commerce is making grants available that jurisdictions could use to hire planners, contract workers, do outreach and more. There will be about $30 million distributed over the next six years to help with this.

— By Laurel Demkovich, Washington State Standard

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

  1. These democrats think we can control the weather lol, what a sham. This will absolutely hinder business and waste billions. Sad.

    1. Oddly, I don’t know a single Democrat who “thinks we can control the weather.” It does seem though, that many conservatives think we can’t, or shouldn’t, do a thing to avert the worst effects of changing climate. Sad.

  2. Is spending $30 million just to write plans a good way to fight climate change? Couldn’t that money be better spent on installing solar panels, wind turbines, and subsidizing low income home owners in replacing their gas burning appliances with electric appliances as the old appliances fail? Or maybe helping poor people buy over priced electric cars and hybrids to replace gas powered old heaps? Planners, consultants and contract workers are out break the bank at all levels of government apparently.

  3. These plans will be part of city and county comprehensive plans.
    This year Edmonds City Council passed the Edmonds Climate Action Plan. We’re on track to include a climate element in our next comprehensive plan.
    Last week, when the temperature got up to 80, I was walking on Main when traffic stopped and I got hit by a blast of heat coming off gas burning engines. When it’s hot, I could do without that.
    Cool factoid: You know how restaurant kitchens get super hot in the summer? Kitchens with induction stoves don’t get hot like that. Induction stoves don’t heat the air around the pan like gas does. That’s another thing I could do without in the summer: the blast of hot air from a kitchen exhaust fan.

  4. I have no problem with creating action plans, I just have a problem with spending so much money just to create the plans in the first place. Use the staffs already being paid and smart retired and semi-retired volunteers to create them. Spend the money on the needed actions; not the plans. Files (computer and cabinets) in government offices everywhere are full of discarded plans written by expensive consultants and never acted upon; after the issue du juor passes on to something else.

  5. Technology and savings will be the best driver of any meaningful reduction in personal carbon footprint. Regardless, human caused emissions from India and China can’t be disregarded in any honest discussion. And the negatives of renewables need to be open for debate. The last three years should have been enough of a reason to shun censorship.

    1. Personal carbon footprint is a creation of the fossil fuel industry to distract from the fossil fuel industries action.
      Nobody is trying to disregard emissions from large developing countries, but there emissions haven’t matched our emissions yet so let’s deal with our own mess before we focus on countries outside our own borders.
      The negatives of burning fossil fuels, far out way the negatives of using renewables, so let’s have an honest discussion about that first.

  6. I see some of us are still confusing the concepts of climate and weather. Weather happens every day. Climate is sort of an average of all the weather observed over large periods of time and the severity of major weather events measured over large periods of time.

    Climate change is a complex issue with many components to consider. Two major factors are over human population and deforestation of the earth, especially the Amazon Rain Forrest region. These factors are seldom talked about for whatever reasons, but are major contributors to the reality of the Change that is scientifically observable and verifiable at this point.

    Some just view it as God is in control so ignore it; it’s not a problem. I’d say do whatever we can in terms of good renewable energy technology practices and promote re-forestation; then leave the rest up to Nature to re-balance the scales; because that is what is actually going to happen.

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