By Diana Carlen
Since the Legislature adjourned at the end of April, we are in the time period known as interim where the focus has shifted to agency implementation of legislation, primarily taskforces and work groups established by the legislature. The Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) is actively engaged in the following work groups:
Snake River Dams Stakeholder Work Group. The operating budget included $750,000 in funding for the governor to hire a neutral, third-party facilitator to establish a process for local, state, tribal and federal leaders and stakeholders to address issues associated with the possible breaching or removal of the four lower Snake River dams. WAWG opposed this budget proviso as duplicative of the federal EIS process currently underway and unnecessary because the state has no authority over dam removal since the dams are owned and operated by the federal government. The governor’s office plans to hire the facilitator in mid-July (the decision on the facilitator was not public at the time this article was sent to print). The work plan of the group is to review all environmental assessments that have been conducted and to coordinate stakeholder input on the environmental impacts, economic and agricultural impacts of the dams.
At a recent Orca Task Force meeting, governor’s staff at the governor’s office re-iterated that the forum would not be a decision-making body, but a forum for Lower Snake River Dam stakeholder discussions. Governor staff also said that they planned on aligning it with the federal EIS process underway so the forum could contribute to the federal discussion. WAWG will be actively engaged in this work group, explaining the multiple benefits of the dams to our region. The dams are the foundation of a thriving, environmentally friendly system underpinning a good portion of the Pacific Northwest in terms of transportation, clean energy production, recreation, flood control and irrigation.
Sustainable Farming Work Group. The operating budget directed the Washington State Conservation Commission and the Washington State Department of Agriculture to develop recommendations for legislation to implement a sustainable farms and fields grant program that prioritizes funding based on net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions on farm, aquatic or ranch lands, including carbon sequestration. The agencies were also directed to produce a gap analysis reviewing existing conservation grant programs and completed voluntary stewardship program plans to identify what technical assistance and cost-share resources are needed to meet the goals of those programs. WAWG will also actively participate in this work group and provide assistance in how this voluntary program should operate. Final recommendations are due by Nov. 1, 2019.
Environmental Justice Task Force. The operating budget included funding for the Washington State Department of Health (WSDOH) to create an environmental justice task force to study and recommend ways to incorporate environmental justice principles into state agency actions. The WSDOH is hoping to hire staff for the task force by early August and hopefully start the task force in August or September. WAWG will be following this group closely.