WA Legislature reviews joining CA, Quebec carbon pricing program

a gas station in Washington

Gas prices in Washington state were the highest in the nation this past summer. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

A proposal to link Washington’s cap-and-invest system with California’s and Quebec’s combined program drew no opposition, but did collect several requests for technical tweaks during a hearing Friday before the Senate Energy & Environment Committee.

Senate Bill 6058 is intended to create a larger carbon-pricing market to bring down bidding allowances, and is supposed to shrink the impact on gas prices of Washington’s cap-and-invest program.

Washington’s year-old cap-and-invest program has added 21 to 50 cents per gallon at the pump, depending on how the calculations are done. The quarterly settlement prices in 2023 — $48.50 to $63.03 per allowance, representing one metric ton of emissions — were much higher than state experts predicted in 2021. By comparison, California’s settlement auction prices began in 2012 at $10 per allowance, reaching slightly above $36 in 2023.

‘“This will help bring down costs for customers,” said Matt Miller, a lobbyist for Puget Sound Energy, at the hearing.

Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center and sponsor of SB 6058, said joining the larger California/Quebec market would shrink and stabilize auction prices. He hoped that the larger markets would encourage other states to join the coalition to further shrink auction prices. Currently, New York is designing its own cap-and-trade program and New England has a limited program for some utilities.

The earliest this linkage could take place is 2025. However, a public referendum on repealing the entire cap-and-invest program is likely going to Washington voters in November.

Most of the proposed changes in the bill are highly technical, involving how many allowances an individual bidder could buy.

Both business and environmental speakers at the hearing were largely in favor of SB6058, but Sept Gernez of the Washington Sierra Club expressed concerns that lowering auction prices would also decrease the amount of money going to climate-change mitigation efforts – the “invest” part of the system.

Even the Washington Policy Center, which supports eliminating the program entirely due to gas price hikes, spoke in favor of linking with California and Quebec. However, Todd Myers, the WPC’s environmental issues director,  wondered if a wider cap-and-trade market would bring outside political and economic pressures into the Washington system. 

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U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear challenge to WA Voting Rights Act

A person votes at a polling place that says "vote"

Jordan Chavez fills out a new ballot at the Yakima County Elections office on Thursday, July 28, 2022. This was Chavez’s first time voting. (Amanda Snyder/Cascade PBS)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a state ruling that rejected a challenge to the Washington Voting Rights Act, upholding the constitutionality of the law.

The decision ends James Gimenez’ constitutional challenge of the state voting rights act. Gimenez, a Latino voter, claimed that three other Latino voters who sued Franklin County for suppressing their voting rights did not have standing because the WVRA provides protections for minority groups, and Latinos are the numerical majority in Franklin County.

Gimenez filed a motion to dismiss the case, then appealed to the Washington Supreme Court, arguing that the state’s voting rights act did not equally protect all races that end up in the minority.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled against Gimenez last year, stating that the three Latino voters could sue the county because the Washington Voting Rights Act indeed protects all Washington voters from discrimination on the basis of race, color and language minority.

The original case was concluded two years ago, after the three voters, along with the League of United Latin American Citizens, settled with Franklin County in May 2022. As part of that settlement, commissioners will now be elected in a district-based system for both the primary and general elections.  

The state passed the Washington Voting Rights Act in 2018, with the intention of streamlining voting rights act enforcement and outlining steps to address remedies through resolution instead of through the courts.

WA drought emergency map
Washington State Department of Ecology map showing that most of the state is now under a drought emergency. Several cities in the Puget Sound region are excluded because their water storage makes them more resilient to drought. (Courtesy of Washington State Department of Ecology)

The state Department of Ecology declared a drought emergency for most of the state Tuesday. 

The department first noted the threat of drought after a dry start to the winter. While precipitation in the past three months contributed to an increase in Washington’s snowpack, there still isn’t enough water needed for farms, aquatic wildlife and people. 

Snowpack is at 68% statewide, with several areas, including the Olympic Mountains, Lower Yakima and north Puget Sound region, having significantly lower numbers.

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply, and a risk of undue hardship. With anticipated warm and dry conditions this spring, Ecology said in a news release that it wanted to declare a drought to make assistance available before impacts become severe. The agency will have up to $4.5 million available for drought response grants for qualifying public entities to respond to the impact of current drought conditions. Declaring an emergency also allows Ecology to process emergency water-rights permits and transfers.  

Ecology is working with other state agencies to coordinate the drought response. Drought conditions could adversely affect the state’s agriculture industry (still recovering from losses from several years of adverse weather conditions) and also adversely impact fish and other wildlife. 

This drought emergency includes more of the state than the emergency from 2023, which was declared for watersheds in 12 counties. This time around, only a portion of the Puget Sound area, including the cities of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma, are not included in the emergency. Those cities have reservoir storage and water management strategies that make them resilient to drought, Ecology said in the news release. 

A dozen Washington school districts were recognized with the first-ever Purple Star Awards earlier this month for their support of active-duty military families. The state Legislature approved the program last year to recognize school districts that demonstrated a commitment to addressing the needs of students in families serving in the military. 

The school districts are 

  • Bremerton School District
  • Central Kitsap School District
  • Cheney School District
  • Clover Park School District
  • Medical Lake School District
  • North Mason School District
  • North Thurston Public Schools
  • Oak Harbor Public Schools
  • Peninsula School District
  • Steilacoom Historical School District
  • Sumner-Bonney Lake School District
  • Yelm Community Schools

To receive the award, school districts need to provide tools and support for students of active-duty military families in their school through tending to the social and emotional barriers students face when their parents are deployed or when they relocate and transfer to a different school. It is also a requirement for the district to host a military recognition event to demonstrate a military-friendly culture or to publicize the district’s support for active-duty military families. 

These school districts work with the Interstate Compact Council, which helps children of military personnel when moving from different schools. One example of this is giving their teachers training on how to better serve their students from active-duty military families. 

Washington has 39,860 children of active-duty military and 19,411 children of National Guard members and reservists, according to the Defense Manpower Data Center

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Association of School Administrators jointly administer the designation, which will be in place for the districts for two years.  

Help Washington State University name its new apple

sliced apples sit next to a ruler

Washington State University recently launched a contest to name WA 64, an apple variety that is a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink. The variety, developed by WSU’s apple breeding program, is expected in grocery stores in 2029. (Photo courtesy of WSU)

Washington State University plans to launch its new apple variety in a few years, but is asking the public now for possible names. The university launched an online survey and contest seeking suggestions on what to name the apple currently known as WA 64. The deadline to enter is May 5.

It will be WSU’s second new apple launch in a decade, after the 2019 debut of Cosmic Crisp

WA 64, in the works for more than 20 years, is a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Cripps Pink, a variety better known by its trademark name, Pink Lady. WSU is in the process of selecting a commercial partner who will manage the rollout of the apple to Washington growers and nurseries. Trees are expected to be widely available to growers by 2026, and the apple is expected to appear in grocery shows by 2029, according to a WSU news release

Cosmic Crisp was also developed through WSU’s apple breeding program. Cosmic Crisp, a crossbreed of Enterprise and Honeycrisp grown exclusively in Washington, is among the top 10 best-selling apple varieties in the U.S. by sales and volume, according to WSU, citing Nielsen data. 

WSU pursued further development of WA 64 because it showed good eating and storage quality. Developers describe WA 64 as crisper and juicier than Cripps Pink and slightly less crisp and juicy than Honeycrisp, providing sweetness and acidity that falls between the two varieties.

The contest is open to U.S. residents 18 and older. Besides suggesting a name for WA 64, participants will also answer several questions, including how they came up with their suggested name and about their fresh apple purchasing habits. The winner chosen will receive a prize package that includes a variety of WSU items, including a gift box of WA64s and Cougar Gold, the university’s famed canned cheese.

Seattle Public Library announces temporary closures into June

a golden brown building in the late afternoon sun

The Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library, on Southwest 35th Avenue in West Seattle, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Genna Martin/Cascade PBS)

In the face of staffing shortages, Seattle Public Library (SPL) announced plans to reduce hours at branches throughout the city from April 14 until June 4.

As with many city departments, SPL saw a wave of staff departures during the pandemic. According to its announcement of the temporary closures, the library system has hired 160 employees in the years since, and either met or exceeded pre-pandemic open hours in 2023.

But SPL also recently increased the minimum number of staff required to operate each library, spurred in part by a growing concern over safety for library staff and patrons. If a branch does not have enough staff on a given day, it leads to closures on short notice.

Librarians’ roles have expanded in recent years as the public institutions have become increasingly significant pieces of the American social safety net. In addition to being a resource and respite for people experiencing homelessness in Seattle, libraries are also becoming important refuges from the extreme weather impacts of climate change, including heat, cold and wildfire smoke.

SPL’s staffing challenges come as Seattle grapples with a projected budget deficit of at least $240 million beginning in 2025. In January, Mayor Bruce Harrell instituted a hiring freeze for all city departments, with an exemption for public safety departments.

The library is not considered an executive department and was therefore not subject to Harrell’s hiring freeze. But Chief Librarian Tom Fay nonetheless instituted a hiring freeze to address the library’s own budget shortfall, with exemptions for hiring on a case-by-case basis.

The rolling closures will take place mostly on weekends and do not affect hours at the Central Library or Ballard, Delridge, Greenwood or University branches.

Here is the full list of closures:

  • Beacon Hill Branch: Closed Sunday, April 14, April 28, May 12 and May 26
  • Broadview Branch: Closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Capitol Hill Branch: Opening at noon on Thursdays and closed on Sundays through June 4
  • Columbia Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Douglass-Truth Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Fremont Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Green Lake Branch: Currently closed for seismic retrofit construction
  • High Point Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • International District/Chinatown Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Lake City Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Madrona Sally-Goldmark Branch: Closed Wednesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • Magnolia Branch: Closed Sundays through June 4
  • Montlake Branch: Closed Tuesdays and Fridays through June 4
  • New Holly Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Northeast Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4
  • Northgate Branch: Closed Saturdays through June 4
  • Queen Anne Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Rainier Beach Branch: Closed Sunday, April 21, May 5, May 19 and June 2
  • South Park Branch: Closed Mondays through June 4
  • Southwest Branch: Closed Saturdays from April 20 through June 4
  • Wallingford Branch: Closed Fridays and Saturdays through June 4
  • West Seattle Branch: Closed Fridays through June 4

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Seattle Public Libraries. The correct name is Seattle Public Library.

Washington to adopt new U.S. PFAS limits, but may take two years

A Washington Department of Ecology test well

A Washington Department of Ecology test well in the Lazy Acres neighborhood in Tumwater. Statewide, more than 300 water sources contain some amount of PFAS. (Andy Engelson for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Department of Health plans to lower the limits on “forever chemicals” in drinking water after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced new lower limits on Wednesday.

The EPA released new nationwide maximum contaminant levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS – after a year-long review. The DOH responded to that announcement with an explanation of what those new limits will mean for Washington. The new EPA maximum levels are mostly lower than the limits adopted in 2021 by the Washington State Board of Health.

Those state limits will stay in place until the Board of Health adopts the new federal levels, which can take up to two years, according to a news release from the DOH.

PFAS are a class of water-resistant human-made chemicals used in a wide variety of products from rain jackets to Teflon pans to firefighting foam. These so-called “forever chemicals” do not break down easily in the environment. They have been found to have negative health impacts that include higher cholesterol, decreased immune response, thyroid disease and increased risks of kidney and testicular cancer.

The DOH offers a page filled with information about PFAS, and so do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recent reporting at Cascade PBS revealed how much of a problem these substances have been in Washington.

Cascade PBS gets seven nominations for regional Emmy awards

A person sits on a horse in a field surrounded by trees and a mountain

A still image from Cascade PBS’ Emmy-nominated episode of Human Elements “The Range Rider.” (Bryce Yukio Adolphson/Cascade PBS)

Cascade PBS has received seven 2023 Northwest Regional Emmy Awards nominations from the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Here are the nominated titles and categories:

Environment/Science - Short Form

Human Elements: The Range Rider, produced by Sarah Hoffman, Bryce Yukio Adolphson, David Quantic and Sarah Menzies. 

Nick on the Rocks: Moses Coulee, produced by Sarah Menzies, Shannen Ortale, Brady Lawrence, Nick Zentner and Kalina Torino.

Arts/Entertainment - Short Form Content

Black Arts Legacies: Reginald André Jackson, produced by Sarah Menzies, Brangien Davis, Tifa Tomb, Avery Johnson and Kalina Torino.

Historical/Cultural - Short Form Content

Mossback’s Northwest: The First Around the World Flight, produced by Michael McClinton, Knute Berger, Resti Bagcal, David Quantic, Sarah Menzies and Madeleine Pisaneschi.

Mossback’s Northwest: The Day Germany Bombed Seattle, produced by Michael McClinton, Knute Berger, Resti Bagcal, Madeleine Pisaneschi, Sarah Menzies, Alegra Figeroid, David Quantic and Matthew Jorgensen.

Photographer - Short Form or Long Form Content

Sarah Hoffman and Bryce Yukio Adolphson 

Editor - Short Form Content

David Quantic

The recipients will be announced at the Northwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Emmy Awards Gala Event on June 1. 

 

Sarah Clark and Joe Mizrahi are the new directors on the Seattle Public Schools Board, replacing two who resigned earlier this year.

Sarah Clark
Sarah Clark (Seattle Public Schools)

Clark, director of policy for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, will represent District 2, which includes the area from Magnolia Interbay to Loyal Heights to Green Lake. A graduate of Garfield High School and the University of Washington, Clark lives in Crown Hill and mentors students at Ballard High School. Board members said Clark would be the only graduate of the Seattle Public Schools system on the Board, and also cited her lived experience as a student of color and her work experience with policy as factors in her selection. Clark was selected from a field of 11 candidates.

Mizrahi, secretary/treasurer of UFCW 3000, will represent District 4, which includes the area from

Joe Mizrahi
Joe Mizrahi (Seattle Public Schools)

Downtown up through Queen Anne to Fremont. Mizrahi has three children in Seattle Public Schools and his wife is principal of an elementary school in Bellevue. He said his parents taught special education in San Diego and created programs around student inclusion and access. Board members cited his understanding of the Board’s role and his involvement in his neighborhood schools as factors in his selection. Mizrahi was selected from a field of four candidates.

Clark and Mizrahi both will be up for election in November 2025. 

Former school directors Vivian Song and Lisa Rivera, who moved out of their districts, vacated their positions in January. The resignations came after The Seattle Times raised questions about Song living outside her school board district. 

A new Washington state legislative district map will be in effect during elections this year after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a motion by conservative Latino voters to block the map’s adoption. 

This is not the end of the debate over Washington’s political map, but the Supreme Court has stopped it for now. The 2024 election will be governed by the map adopted last month by a U.S. District Court judge

The new map aims to create a Latino voter-majority district that aligns with voting rights laws. Under the new map, Legislative District 14 unites Latino communities in Central Washington from the east part of Yakima to Pasco in neighboring Franklin County, including Latino communities along the Lower Yakima Valley. The map also switched the Latino-majority district from the 15th to the 14th to ensure that state Senate elections fall on a presidential election year when the turnout of Latino voters is higher. 

The court led the process of creating the map after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Lasnik sided with Latino voters who sued the state in January 2022. He said the district, as drawn by the bipartisan Washington State Redistricting Commission in 2021, diluted Latino voter power. The court led the process after Democrats in the Legislature declined to reconvene the redistricting commission

A group of conservative Latino voters, which included State Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy), intervened in the case, known as Palmer v. Hobbs, and opposed the map, stating that it was an attempt by Democrats to gain power in conservative Central Washington districts. That argument did not get much traction in the original court case or the remedial map process.

Intervenors, however, will have another opportunity to present their arguments for the appeals process, which was allowed to continue after the court declined to block the map for the 2024 election. According to a court document, conservative voters must file opening briefs by June 7, with responses due in early July.

The Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors is scheduled to appoint new members on Wednesday to replace two who resigned earlier this year after moving out of the districts that they represented.

The school district held a forum with the finalists from director districts 2 and 4 last week. The forum was posted to the district’s YouTube channel for board meetings. District 2 includes the area from Magnolia Interbay to Loyal Heights to Green Lake. District 4 includes the area from Downtown up through Queen Anne to Fremont.

Both seats will be up for election in November 2025. 

Former school directors Vivian Song and Lisa Rivera vacated their positions in January after The Seattle Times raised questions about Song’s residency in her school board district. Song and Rivera said they were in compliance with state law, but both resigned to avoid “unnecessary distraction,” according to their joint statement.

The Seattle Public Schools Board is scheduled to evaluate the finalists in an executive session scheduled before the regular public board meeting on Wednesday. The regular board meeting starts at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence, 2445 Third Avenue South in Seattle. The newly appointed directors are expected to take the oath of office at 5 p.m, Thursday. 

Correction: This article originally had an incorrect date for the oath of office. The article was corrected on April 4, 2024.

A school district admnistration building
Seattle Public Schools’ SoDo headquarters, in an undated file photo. (Matt M. McKnight/Cascade PBS File)