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July 28, 2021
For Immediate Release: 350 Affiliates across Washington Sue Clean Air Agencies
Seattle, WA: Lawyers working with 350 Seattle and nine other 350.org affiliates across Washington filed suit in King County Superior Court today against all seven of Washington State’s local clean air agencies.
The suit contends that the agencies, which are required by the state Clean Air Act to have certain permitting decisions be made by their boards, have been instead allowing staff to make those decisions. Furthermore, the suit points out that the agencies have been treating the decisions as “ministerial” (meaning that the agencies are essentially required to rubber stamp them) rather than “discretionary” (meaning that the decision-makers can exercise their own judgement).
“It’s outrageous,” says 350 Seattle’s Executive Director, Valerie Costa. “The boards of these agencies are politically accountable, but the staff are not. Many decisions are completely counter to the climate plans that some of the board members have, as elected officials, helped to create. The left hand is making fine promises, while the right hand robs us of any chance of keeping them.”
The groups, which have never been plaintiffs before, are better known for grassroots organizing, protest, and even civil disobedience.
“We’re much more likely to be defendants than plaintiffs,” points out 350 Seattle’s Emily Johnston. “But this is just so screwed up—we had to take legal action. Compliance with the law should mean fewer new fossil fuel infrastructure projects for us to fight—or at least more tools with which to fight them. This is not an era in which we can be rubber-stamping fossil fuel decisions in the back room.” Knoll Lowney, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said “This is a simple case. The Clean Air Act clearly requires that these important climate decisions be made by the agencies’ boards, which are geographically balanced and politically accountable.”
The groups taking part in the suit are 350 Wenatchee, 350 Everett, 350 Eastside, 350 Bellingham, Olympic Climate Action, 350 Tacoma, the Kitsap Environmental Coalition, 350 West Sound Climate Action, and 350 Yakima. All are affiliates of the global climate group 350.org.
The groups are represented by Smith & Lowney PLLC.