Recent steps toward ensuring our agricultural and rural communities and industries remain competitive:
Expanding renewable energy use in Washington -- Through the passage of legislation dealing with anaerobic digesters and biomass energy, Washington continues to be a leader in the development and regulation of renewable energy. The 2012 Legislature assisted digester operators by granting an extended compliance period related to sulfur emission limits and directed the Department of Ecology and local air agencies to assist with reducing sulfur emissions. 2012 also saw the passage of the first significant changes to I-937, the Clean Energy Initiative. Through the passage of the Legacy Biomass bill new sources of biomass energy will be allowed under I-937 and biomass facilities in operation before 1999 will qualify as eligible for renewable energy credits.
Protection of agricultural lands -- In 2012 the Legislature passed a measure correcting a conflict in the SEPA environmental checklist related to impact to agricultural land. Under the bill the Department of Ecology is now required to assess whether the current environmental checklist ensures consideration of potential impacts to agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance by December 31, 2013.
Protection of water resources -- Though Washington has abundant water resources, prudent and reasonable regulations are still needed for their protection and preservation. One such regulation states that if a person fails to benefit from their water right for a period of five years, they relinquish the right. However, state law requires the Department of Ecology to approve a request to change the terms of their water right or transfer their right to another person, a process that can be quite lengthy. Legislation passed during the 2012 session ensures that waiting for a final determination from the Department of Ecology on an application for a temporary permit, change, transfer, or amendment to a water right is sufficient cause for nonuse of a water right and protects the applicant from relinquishment of that water right.
Promoting conservation - Washington has special interests in preserving lands for agricultural use, while at the same time supporting a diverse economy and a growing population. In 2012, the Legislature acted to provide county legislative authorities the option to establish a system of rates and charges as an alternative to imposing special assessments for conservation districts. The new process is similar to current rules for special districts and will require public notice and comment. An additional protection will require the districts operating board to set up rules for an appeal process.