Puget Sound Recovery
Home to some of the largest container ports that export and import goods to and from America’s leading trading partners in Asia, as well as the home to Army, Navy, and Air Force Installations critical to our nation’s defense, the Puget Sound is a valuable economic driver and natural resource located in Western Washington.
As the second largest estuary in the United States, the Puget Sound region includes 68 state parks, eight national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other public lands.
While its beauty and economic activity brings much-deserved attention to our area, ecosystem decline remains a serious concern. Approximately 70 percent of the Puget Sound’s original estuaries and wetlands have disappeared due to urban and agricultural development, and dangerous contamination has closed swimming beaches and shellfish beds. Fish and marine life struggle to survive in oxygen-starved dead zones in the South Sound and Hood Canal.
Populations of salmon once numbered in the millions are listed as endangered or threatened.
Restoration efforts in the Puget Sound generate jobs, goods, and services in the short-term and help to ensure our economic livelihood in the long-term. Restoring the health of Puget Sound must remain a priority for our region, state and nation.
The Puget Sound Recovery Caucus is devoted to promoting the three region-wide Puget Sound recovery priorities:
- Preventing pollution from urban stormwater runoff,
- Protecting and restoring habitat, and
- Restoring and re-opening shellfish beds.
In the legislative spirit of former Washington Congressman Norm Dicks, and the advocacy of Pacific Northwest leaders like the late Billy Frank Jr., the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus carries on the legacy of improving the body of water for future generations.
The Puget Sound Recovery Caucus was cofounded by Congressman Denny Heck and Congressman Derek Kilmer in June of 2013 to promote Puget Sound cleanup efforts. Other founding members include Jim McDermott (WA-7), Rick Larsen (WA-2), Adam Smith (WA-9), and Suzan DelBene (WA-1).
Unlike the Chesapeake and other water bodies like the Great Lakes, the Puget Sound lacks formal “program” status under the Clean Water Act, which helps ensure consistent federal funding. The Puget Sound Recovery Caucus was formed to ensure consistent federal attention is directed towards protection and recovery efforts in the Sound.
On October 18, 2016, a new chapter began in the decades-old history of Puget Sound restoration. Congressman Heck stood with Governor Inslee, Christy Goldfuss, Director of President Obama's White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), and Rep. Derek Kilmer to announce new federal actions to improve the health of the Puget Sound watershed. The federal government is now firmly committed through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to become more involved in restoration efforts.
The Obama Administration also announced that it would establish a task force to identify the priorities and create a plan of action to clean up Puget Sound. The task force will bring together tribal governments and other stakeholders in the region to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the Puget Sound, such as stormwater runoff, shellfish sustainability, and habitat restoration.
On September 29, 2015, Heck and Kilmer introduced the Promoting United Government Efforts To Save Our Sound (PUGET SOS) Act in the United States Congress. The PUGET SOS bill, H.R. 3630, would enhance the federal government’s role and investment in the Puget Sound, the largest estuary in the United States by water volume.
Specifically, the bill integrates and aligns federal restoration efforts with the ongoing efforts of state, local, and tribal governments. To enhance national awareness and contribution, the bill amends the Clean Water Act by adding a new section dedicated to Puget Sound recovery, providing lasting and structural recognition of the Puget Sound as a waterbody of national significance on par with the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. The bill also designates a Puget Sound Recovery Office at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Other original cosponsors of the bill include Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR-04) and every member of the Washington Congressional delegation.
On February 29, 2016, Congressman Kilmer and Heck introduced the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Financing Investment Act. This legislation takes a key first step towards addressing the impact of stormwater runoff by creating incentives for state, Tribal, and local governments to invest in Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI).
On March 25, 2015, the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus held its first Puget Sound Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. In meetings with Members of Congress and other federal stakeholders, participants reiterated Puget Sound’s importance on a national level, the need for robust levels of federal funding to keep recovery efforts on track, and how federal actions can be more coordinated with existing restoration activities.
In Summer of 2014, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy joined the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus to discuss the importance of recovery initiatives and tour Commencement Bay. At the event, the Caucus released a white paper outlining the major legislative priorities for the efforts moving forward, including:
- Formally recognizing Puget Sound as a great body of water within the Clean Water Act to ensure an adequate level of funding
- Advancing new research investments in stormwater solutions with the EPA’s Office of Water
- Congress pass the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2014 to direct more private sector resources to the problem
- Habitat restoration
- Promote economic development and environmental protection
- Remove derelict vessels and creosote pilings
The Puget Sound has a rich history in the maritime development of the region and country. The Sound helps drive approximately $9.5 billion in travel spending, including 88,000 tourist-related jobs that bring $3 billion in income to the state. To honor the legacy of the area, the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus introduced the Maritime Washington National Heritage Act in June 2014 to help promote maritime-related tourism, economic development and maritime history as told through Washington state’s museums, historic ships, fishing culture and other activities.
In April 2014, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio of Oregon’s 4th District became the first member of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus outside of the state of Washington. Rep. DeFazio joined the Caucus following a meeting in Tacoma with stakeholders about Puget Sound recovery efforts.
Stakeholders joined Puget Sound Recovery Caucus co-founders Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer on April 8, 2014 at the U.S. Capitol to share best practices in the watershed restoration of the Puget Sound. Participants from a variety of organizations and agencies shared what is currently underway to restore Puget Sound on the state and federal level and what can be done to boost the rate of recovery.
In December 2013, the Caucus held a Roundtable Discussion on the state of the Puget Sound in order to receive an update on the Puget Sound Partnership’s 2013 State of the Sound Report, discuss recovery challenges, and to develop new ideas for achieving greater results.
In August 2013, the Congressional Puget Sound Recovery Caucus held its first field hearing in Tacoma. The Caucus heard testimony from officials representing EPA, Governor Jay Inslee’s office, and the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Caucus, among others, in order to draw focused attention to the health and restoration of the Puget Sound.
PRESERVING FEDERAL FUNDING
The Puget Sound Recovery Caucus is committed to ensuring that the federal government appropriately accounts for its commitments to invest in the cleanup of Puget Sound, as well as honor tribal treaty rights of Puget Sound area tribes. On April 4, 2017, the Caucus called on President Trump to preserve federal investment in the Environmental Protection Agency's Geographic Programs, which provide cleanup resources for Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and other major bodies of water. In May 2017, the 2017 omnibus budget proposal was signed into law by President Trump, and provided $28 million for the EPA's Puget Sound Geographic Program.
For the FY 2018 budget, President Trump again proposed the elimination of EPA's Puget Sound Geographic Program, Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and cuts of more than $700 million to State and Tribal Assistance Grants and $27 million from the National Estuary Program. As the budget debate proceeds, the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus will continue to push for adequate levels of funding to protect Puget Sound.