Gov. Jay Inslee has named Laura Watson director of the Washington State Department of Ecology Dec. 20. She replaces Maia Bellon, who resigned earlier this month.

Watson starts at Ecology Jan. 8. She could not be reached for comment. 

“Laura is a proven leader who is deeply committed to protecting our state’s air, water and land,” Inslee said in a press release. “She has a deep understanding of the crucial work Ecology does statewide and was at the center of some of the most important issues in recent years. I know she will build on the transformative work that Maia has done at Ecology and I look forward to welcoming her to my cabinet.”

Watson is currently the senior assistant attorney general in the Ecology Division of the Attorney General’s Office. As chief legal counsel to the Director of the Department of Ecology, she provided advice and representation to Ecology’s 10 environmental programs and to the agency’s administration.

Watson is also a former deputy solicitor general in the Attorney General’s Office.

Watson was Washington’s lead counsel on several legal challenges to the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections and is representing Washington in its challenge to EPA’s proposed repeal of Washington’s fish consumption rule.

She has also defended the state’s environmental laws in the Washington State Supreme Court, including a case that upheld the state’s multi-million dollar hazardous substance tax. More recently, she defended a case about the state’s landmark greenhouse gas regulation, the Clean Air Rule.

Watson has advised on a wide array of Washington’s most pressing environmental issues, including cleanup at the Hanford nuclear site, toxics reduction strategies, protection of the State’s Clean Water Act authority against federal intrusion, and options for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, according to the press release from Inslee's office.

Watson also volunteered with Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services, providing legal advice to low-income residents. She currently volunteers for Quixote Communities, a nonprofit organization that builds and operates tiny homes, offering permanent supportive housing to homeless individuals, according to the press release.

Watson earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. She earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with a women’s studies certificate, from the University of Pittsburgh.

She lives in West Olympia with her husband, Dan, a professor of mechanical engineering at St. Martin’s University. Their daughter, Violet, is in middle school and is spearheading the family’s efforts to become a zero-waste household, according to the press release.

Bellon is the longest serving Ecology director in state history. Inslee appointed her in 2013.

"Maia’s leadership at Ecology and comprehensive understanding of issues that affect our state has protected Washington’s quality of life and its economy," Inslee said. "I thank Maia for her years of service and for all she has done for Washington.”

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