The Washington state Senate is considering a piece of legislation that is so broad it might as well be called the “We Like Everything Except What We Don’t” bill.
Senate Bill 5489 — called the Healthy Environment for All Act, or HEAL — seeks to ensure that Washington state’s policy is to “encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between humankind and the environment, to promote efforts that will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and the biosphere, and to stimulate the health and welfare of human beings.”
The non-specific, if not bizarre, language leaves open the doors for all sorts of mischief, particularly when it comes to agriculture.
HEAL isn’t specifically about agriculture, according to the sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle. She is a former farm union organizer and was also behind the bill that would require farmers to report slavery and human trafficking. Another of her bills last year would have required farmers to notify neighbors four days before they spray pesticides.
“The HEAL Act is not designed to impact the agricultural industry,” Saldana said in an email to our reporter, Don Jenkins.
However, she added, “Many of the most impacted communities in our state are in rural agricultural communities and thus the HEAL Act could help target more public priorities and investments and better outreach of those rural communities.”
The legislation would establish a task force that would discuss strategies for “incorporating environmental justice principles into how state agencies discharge their responsibilities.”
Members of the task force would include the heads of the state departments of Commerce, Ecology, Transportation, Health and Natural Resources.
Other members would include the Puget Sound Partnership, a tribal leader, the energy facility site evaluation council, the head of the governor’s interagency council on health disparities, plus a member who “knows” about environmental justice, a union member and three members from community groups.
And not one farmer or anyone in any way affiliated with agriculture.
At the heart of HEAL is the precautionary principle, which has long made the rounds among various anti-agriculture groups. In essence, it says that if we can’t prove something is safe, then it isn’t. A close cousin to that is the precautionary approach, which HEAL describes as “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty is not used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation.”
In other words, science matters, but not very much.
State agencies need to do their jobs in a fair and responsible manner based on science and facts. They don’t need a new state task force backed by fanciful and nonsensical legislation to tell them otherwise.
The procession of legislation parading through the Washington Legislature makes us wonder whether “fair and responsible” will soon be replaced by another agenda.