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Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to environmental issues. Click on any question to see the answer.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.

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What are a local government’s responsibilities under the state’s electric vehicle and alternative fuel procurement rules?
Reviewed: August 2021

Under RCW 43.19.648(2)(a) all Washington local governments are required to satisfy one hundred percent of their fuel usage for operating publicly owned vessels, vehicles, and construction equipment from electricity or biofuel, “to the extent determined practicable by the rules adopted by the department of commerce.”

Pursuant to RCW 43.325.080, the Washington State Department of Commerce adopted rules in 2016 (effective June 2018) to define what is and is not practicable for compliance with this law. WAC 194-29-020(7) defines “practicable” to mean:

  • ...the extent to which alternative fuels and vehicle technologies can be used to displace gasoline and diesel fuel in vehicles, as determined by multiple dynamic factors including cost and availability of fuels and vehicles, changes in fueling infrastructure, operations, maintenance, technical feasibility, implementation costs, and other factors.

Further, WAC 194-29-030(3) provides:

  • If a local government believes it is not practicable to use electricity or biofuels to fuel police, fire or other emergency response vehicles, including utility vehicles frequently used for emergency response, it is encouraged to consider alternate fuels and vehicle technologies, such as natural gas or propane, to displace gasoline and diesel fuel use. Local governments that opt to exempt emergency response vehicles from these rules must notify the department as part of their annual reporting under WAC 194-29-080.

All local governments are required to comply with the chapter rules adopted by the Department of Commerce, but reporting is required only by local governments that use more than 200,000 gallons of gas or diesel to fuel vehicles annually (WAC 194-29-040). WAC 194-29-080 sets forth the reporting requirements for local governments who are required to report:

  • By July 1 of each year, each local government required to report under WAC 194-29-040 must submit to the department an annual report on a form provided by the department documenting how it is complying with the goal of satisfying one hundred percent of fuel usage for operating vehicles, vessels and construction equipment from electricity or biofuel by June 1, 2018, based on the criteria in WAC 194-29-070, including any reasons for noncompliance and plans for future compliance.

Local governments are not required to retrofit their vehicles or replace them before the end of their useful lives.

(Link to this question)

Do you have examples of city policies intended to incentivize the use of residential solar panels?
Reviewed: July 2021

Below are examples of cities across the state that are employing various tools (e.g. permitting, education and incentives) to encourage residential solar power. 

City of Bellevue  
Bellevue’s solar panel permitting page includes a checklist for residential photovoltaic systems and several other resources. 

City of Bellingham 
Bellingham created the first solar panel building permit exemption program in the state, eliminating permitting and engineering requirements for almost all residential installations. This link includes green building incentives, including those for solar. 

City of Edmonds 
Edmonds is a Northwest Solar Community, which means it works to promote solar energy and reduce some of the costs associated with solar installations. The program includes a flat fee and height exemptions for rooftop solar installations, among other elements. 

City of Issaquah 
Issaquah no longer requires building permits for certain residential solar installations. The city’s checklist for exemption is similar to Langley’s (below).

City of Kirkland 
As part of a federal Department of Energy grant, Kirkland and other grant partners (Seattle, Bellevue) have developed a streamlined process for the permitting of small-scale rooftop-mounted solar installations for single-family residential customers. 

City of Langley 
Langley no longer requires building permits for small roof-mounted systems less than 15kW. The city’s checklist for small roof-mounted systems is here.  

City of Mercer Island 
The Solarize Mercer Island campaign has been in place since 2014. Mercer Island is part of the Solarize Northwest program that provides discounts from participating installers. 

Solarize Snoqualmie – 2016 Municipal Excellence Award winner. Snoqualmie put together a program to help lower costs for solar installations for residents, detailed here. 

And here are a couple additional resources regarding solar power (albeit several years old now): 

(Link to this question)

Does an environmental impact statement (EIS) expire?
Reviewed: April 2016

There is no expiration period for an EIS. However, there likely are expiration periods for project permit applications for which an EIS was prepared; a new application for a previously proposed but not acted upon project triggers new environmental review. DOE's SEPA Handbook (rev. 2004), addresses environmental review in this circumstance:

SEPA documents do not have expiration dates. After SEPA is completed, if a proposal is delayed so that new permits must be applied for, environmental review may be limited to verifying that there is no new information, regulatory changes, or changes to the proposal that would require additional review. (This is true even if the applicant has changed.) As long as there are no changes to be addressed, no additional paperwork is required and agencies may proceed with permit decisions.

See WAC 197-11-600 , which addresses the use of existing environmental documents.

(Link to this question)

Can a school district act as a lead agency for SEPA compliance?
Reviewed: September 2015

Yes, a school district can (actually, should) act as the lead agency regarding a project it proposes. WAC 197-11-926(1) states in part:

When an agency initiates a proposal, it is the lead agency for that proposal. If two or more agencies share in the implementation of a proposal, the agencies shall by agreement determine which agency will be the lead agency.

"Agency" is defined in WAC 197-11-714(1) as follows:

"Agency" means any state or local governmental body, board, commission, department, or officer authorized to make law, hear contested cases, or otherwise take the actions stated in WAC 197-11-704, except the judiciary and state legislature. An agency is any state agency ( WAC 197-11-926) or local agency ( WAC 197-11-762).

"Local agency" under WAC 197-11-762, referenced above in WAC 197-11-714(1), is defined as "any political subdivision, regional governmental unit, district, municipal or public corporation, including cities, towns, and counties and their legislative bodies." (My emphasis.)

Lastly, WAC 197-11-704, also referenced above in WAC 197-11-714(1) (“any . . . local governmental body . . . authorized to . . . otherwise take the actions stated in WAC 197-11-704. . .”) includes within the definition of “project action”:

 . . . agency decisions to:
(i) . . . fund, or undertake any activity that will directly modify the environment, whether the activity will be conducted by the agency, an applicant, or under contract.

(Link to this question)

Is a water line extension project exempt from SEPA?
Reviewed: March 2015

Yes, if the line is 12 inches or less in diameter and the water line does not cross any "lands covered by water." WAC 197-11-800 (23)(b).

(Link to this question)

Is the establishment of a transportation benefit district subject to SEPA?
Reviewed: January 2015

No. The categorical exemption in WAC 197-11-800(16) was amended in May 2014 (WSR 14-09-026) to add "special purpose district," to make the following actions exempt from SEPA (underlined words were added):

Local improvement districts and special purpose districts. The formation of local improvement districts and special purpose districts, unless such formation constitutes a final agency decision to undertake construction of a structure or facility not exempted under WAC 197-11-800 and 197-11-880. A special district or special purpose district is a local government entity designated by the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and is not a city, town, township, or county.

Since a transportation benefit district is a type of special purpose district, its establishment is exempt from SEPA review. 

(Link to this question)