(The Center Square) – Legislation that would add climate change resiliency as a goal to Washington state’s Growth Management Act drew mostly supportive comments at Tuesday’s public hearing before a Senate committee.
Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1181, which has already passed the House of Representatives by a 57-41 vote, would require Washington’s most populous counties and cities to plan for addressing the impacts of climate change. Per the 48-page bill, local leaders would be offered a choice of mitigation measures to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions and cut down the number of miles driven by automobiles in an effort to diminish the impacts of climate change.
“The basic idea is that we need to mitigate not just climate change through greenhouse gas emissions reductions, but the results of the climate change – the exacerbation, I guess, of bigger floods, more frequent floods, landslides, wildfires,” Rep. Davina Duerr, D-Bothell, the bill’s prime sponsor, told the Senate Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs Committee. “We know in the short term, it’s cheap not to plan, to build on flood plains, but in the long term it’s far more expensive. It’s incredibly expensive to rebuild homes and businesses and infrastructure due to climate change disasters.”
Under the bill, the state Department of Commerce would work with local jurisdictions to ensure they are addressing flooding, wildfires, and other natural hazards in their planning.
“Climate change is probably the most significant threat facing Washington today,” Dave Andersen, managing director of the state Department of Commerce’s Growth Management Services unit, told the committee. “And it’s not a threat in our future anymore; it’s a threat now. We’re already seeing the effects of climate change, including things like wildfires and floods throughout Washington. So taking action now is critical. Every year of delay, the impacts increase and the cost of inaction compounds.”
Others who testified agreed with that assessment.
Issaquah Mayor Mary Lou Pauly said her city of 40,000 is especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because it’s located in an urban wildland interface – a zone of transition between wilderness and developed land – that puts the city at an increased risk of wildfires and flooding.
“These important factors are taken into account on the climate action plan that our city developed and adopted in 2021,” she said. “I think incorporating climate change planning into GMA is long overdue and [I am] very excited to see work on this particular element and these regional goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
King County Councilmember Craig Reynolds spoke to the committee in his capacity as a member of the King County-Cities Climate Collaboration, a partnership of local governments dedicated to climate change-related needs.
“But medium- to long-term actions require current plans and this bill will appropriately force cities to make those plans and commit to them,” he said.” It is also essential that any version of this bill that is ultimately passed provide financial support cities need to create a proper plan.”
Jamie Stroble, climate director for The Nature Conservancy in Washington, views “these updates to the Growth Management Act as an opportunity to help everyone plan ahead for our collective benefit.”
One testifier was not so sure and spoke out against the bill.
“One thing that we know for certain is that adding regulation after regulation adds time and cost to projects,” said Josie Cummings, the Business Industry Association of Washington’s legislative director. “And so we would have preferred an approach focusing on technology and innovation.”
Her comments were in line with a January blog by Todd Myers, environmental policy head at the free-market Washington Policy Center, which says adding climate change to the GMA will make projects more costly without helping the environment.
Myers noted “nobody believes the GMA has been successful at meeting the first 14 goals. The notion that adding a 15th goal, which isn’t prioritized over the others, will suddenly make it successful is a strange assumption.”