OLYMPIA — The Senate budget committee Friday narrowly approved a bill to create an unelected council to advise seven state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, on incorporating environmental justice into agency activities.
Senate Bill 5141 passed the Ways and Means Committee on a 13-12 vote, with two Democrats joining all 10 Republicans in voting "no."
Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, voted against the bill after fellow Democrats rejected his amendment to limit the council's purview to the Department of Ecology and Puget Sound Partnership.
"I'm very fearful this bill will add another layer of permitting and frustration and will cost a lot of jobs," he said.
"I'm fearful now, even before this law passes, that Washington is going to have trouble ever siting heavy industry again in the state."
Introduced by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, the environmental justice bill stems from a task force that concluded the country's history and institutions were ingrained with racism.
The bill initially granted the task force, to be appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee, with broad authority over the spending and policy decisions of agencies.
The bill has been modified to assign the task force a more advisory role, but still says agencies must incorporate "environmental justice obligations."
The bill names the departments of agriculture, commerce, ecology health, natural resources and transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership.
The Inslee administration would have the option of putting other agencies under the environmental justice council's review.
Ways and Means chairwoman, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, rejected the Van De Wege amendment to narrow the council's portfolio, saying Saldaña and business groups are negotiating details.
"I am very happy with the way the bill has improved with the very active engagement of environmental justice leaders and agencies," Saldaña said Monday in an email.
The committee did accept an amendment from Van De Wege to subject members of the environmental justice council to Senate confirmation.
The 12-member council would be made up of people "committed to the principles of environmental justice" and include "environmental justice practitioners or academics."
The committee would have two tribal representatives, though the council would have no jurisdiction over tribal lands.
The bill would require agencies to spend at least 40% of their grants in "overburdened communities."
To identify those communities, the Department of Health and the University of Washington has ranked the the state's 1,458 census tracts based on 19 "environmental health indicators."
The 20% with the worst scores are considered overburdened. The indicators include education attainment, income levels and the percentage of whites or non-whites.
Senate Democrats are tying the environmental justice bill, named the Healthy Environment for All Act, to a separate cap-and-trade bill, known as the Climate Commitment Act.
Cap-and-trade auctions would raise an estimated $2.6 billion over the first five years, according to Ecology projections. Large emitters of greenhouse gases would have to bid for the right to emit carbon.
The cap-and-trade bill proposes splitting the revenue between environmental justice and transportation projects.
Cap-and-trade's goal would be to reduce Washington's greenhouse gases by about 30 million metric tons over the first seven years, according to a state fiscal report, or about 30% of the state's current carbon output.
At a meeting Friday, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, the top-ranking Republican on the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee, asked whether cap-and-trade would "have any impact on climate."
"We'd have to look at the results down the road," said Stu Clark, special assistant to the director of Ecology.
"What we do know from this legislation is that it will have significant investments in actions that will improve climate resiliency, reduce emissions and co-pollutants in neighborhoods and provide public health benefits and other societal benefits," Clark said.
Ericksen called cap-and-trade "probably the biggest piece of legislation we've ever seen."
"I'm worried about the people of Washington state who depend on good jobs and for those in underserved communities, that the Democratic Party is so focused on now, not being able to get jobs," he said.