New Law Modifies Programs Protecting Natural Resources
On the final day of the Washington State 2012 Special Session, 2ESSB 6406 was passed by the House and Senate and is on its way to the Governor’s desk. In a session light on land use issues, some have called this bill the most significant land use bill of the session.
The bill was able to survive this tough session in part because it introduced new fees and raises existing fees for certain natural resource approvals. Some specific features of the bill are listed below.
Under 2ESSB 6406 the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Hydraulic Project Approval (HPA) will for the first time require a $150 application fee. An HPA is required for work conducted at or below the ordinary high water mark of waters of the state and is meant to prevent negative impacts to fish.
The fee for Forest Practice Applications (FPA) will generally increase threefold, and the approval will be required to consider impacts to fish. In this way, in cases where a project requires both an HPA and an FPA review, an exemption from the HPA can be granted.
Another significant element of 2ESSB 6406 relates to State Environmental Policy Act thresholds for categorical exemptions. The bill requires Ecology to conduct rulemaking to raise the level of development that could qualify for a categorical exemption under SEPA, including increasing the maximum threshold levels for residential construction, certain public facilities, and certain agricultural activities. In conducting its rulemaking, Ecology is prohibited from adding new subjects, such as greenhouse gasses or climate change. The bill also includes a provision that allows a planned action to be adopted for an entire jurisdiction although the likelihood of any jurisdiction utilizing this provision is probably small.
The bill also grants an extension for an additional year to the phase II storm water general permit for Eastern Washington municipalities.