December 30, 2022

Editorials: Puget Sound wins big in federal budget, defense bills

If you want to see how power is exerted in Washington, D.C., look no further than recent federal investments in Puget Sound.

The state’s congressional delegation successfully made restoring Puget Sound a national concern and added tens of millions of dollars for habitat and stormwater programs — seen as vital to saving salmon and other species.

First, U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer and Marilyn Strickland — co-chairs of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus — attached the “PUGET SOS Act” to a larger defense bill.

The Act establishes a Puget Sound Recovery National Program Office within EPA and in coordination with NOAA and other federal agencies. The move fulfills the decades-long hope of tribal leaders, advocates and residents to make restoring this vital waterway a federal priority, on par with similar efforts to save Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

“We will never recover salmon and Puget Sound until we are all pulling in the same direction and this Act moves us closer to that goal,” said Ed Johnstone, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

President Joe Biden signed the defense bill on Dec. 23.

Separately, as part of the $1.7 trillion comprehensive spending bill signed by Biden on Dec. 29, more money was allocated for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound program. Kilmer and Strickland joined with Washington’s U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to include $54 million for the program, a nearly $20 million increase from this year’s funding level.

On top of that, the same program will receive an additional $17.8 million from Biden’s infrastructure bill, for a total of $71.8 million for Puget Sound next year.

This represents the largest single-year investment of resources in the history of EPA’s Puget Sound recovery efforts.

Projects include salmon habitat restoration, toxicology, stormwater mitigation, and investments to improve the science needed to understand and respond to the top threats facing the region.

“The actions by Congress acknowledge the national significance of Puget Sound and gives the EPA the opportunity to double-down on our efforts to support the many partners on the ground working every day to restore Puget Sound, and importantly underscores our collective efforts to protect Tribal treaty rights,” said Casey Sixkiller, EPA’s regional administrator for Region 10.

Puget Sound is under threat. Of that, there can be no doubt. The actions of Washington’s federal lawmakers underscore the recognition of that reality, and their dedication to bring the necessary resources into the fight.

There is much more to be done. But all those who care about the fate of these precious waters should feel pride and relief at what our representatives have accomplished.

By:  The Seattle Times Editorial Board
Source: Seattle Times