White House, Washington state and federal leaders announce major new initiatives for Puget Sound recovery

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SEATTLE – Today officials from the Obama administration and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and U.S. Reps. Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer and Rick Larsen announced new federal actions to help protect and recover the health of Puget Sound, one of the nation’s largest estuaries. These actions demonstrate a firm commitment from the federal government to help restore Puget Sound, and are similar to federal actions taken in recent years to protect other large aquatic ecosystems, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

Christy Goldfuss, managing director of President Obama’s White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), joined federal, state and tribal officials in Seattle to announce a new memorandum of understanding that directs federal Puget Sound restoration activities and that recognizes the pressing need to address salmon recovery and protect tribal treaty rights. This MOU creates a Puget Sound Federal Task Force that includes several members of Obama’s cabinet and will enhance coordination among federal and state agencies, tribes and local restoration efforts.

In addition to this landmark task force and MOU, today the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency announced more than $600 million in new federal funding commitments for habitat restoration, stormwater runoff, shellfish sustainability and other key strategies to improve the health of Puget Sound.

“A healthy Puget Sound provides key economic, cultural and ecological benefits, and serves as the cornerstone of the region's high quality of life. Building on decades of conservation efforts from federal, state, local and tribal agencies, today's actions will strengthen federal efforts to bolster conservation, restoration, and enhance tribal treaty rights within the Puget Sound at a critical juncture in the ecosystem's recovery,” Goldfuss said.

“Today’s announcements mark an important step on the path to restoring the health of Puget Sound, the recovery of our salmon species and fulfilling our nation’s commitment to Washington’s tribes,” Inslee said. “The federal commitments build upon our state’s investments and the strong partnership between all levels of government that are working to restore this estuary central to our state’s history, commerce and future.”

Kilmer and Heck lauded today’s federal executive actions, which closely reflect policy changes they have sought through their Promoting Unified Government Efforts to Save Our Sound (Puget SOS) Act.

“Too often, conversations in Washington, DC, on restoring America’s waterways start with the Chesapeake Bay and end with the Great Lakes. Today we are pushing our nation’s conservation priorities westward and bringing attention to Puget Sound, the iconic estuary that is part of our national identity and the heart of the Pacific Northwest,” said Heck, who with Kilmer co-chairs of the Congressional Puget Sound Recovery Caucus. “With this announcement, we are reaffirming that Puget Sound recovery will be a central part of our federal government’s conservation priorities moving forward. I look forward to working with our next president and Congress to provide the necessary resources to save our Sound.”

"Puget Sound is central to our region’s identity, history and culture,” said Kilmer. “It helps attract visitors to our area, supports critical habitats you won’t find elsewhere and powers our economy. In order to keep it healthy for future generations, the time for action is now. That’s why I’m glad we are here today to announce a new playbook that ensures the federal government is working in tandem with local partners and Native American tribes to more effectively protect and restore our Sound.”

The new federal MOU and task force will prioritize the protection of Puget Sound through development of a Puget Sound action plan to better coordinate federal programs, complement the state action agenda from the Puget Sound Partnership and focus on restoration work. The task force will develop the action plan in collaboration with state officials and in consultation with tribal governments.

In addition, several federal agencies today announced new funding commitments to help accelerate Puget Sound recovery. These are:

·A $248 million combined investment from EPA and the state of Washington, over the next five years for improving estuary health.

·Two habitat studies completed by the Army Corps of Engineers and partners. The first, the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project (PSNERP) — one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects undertaken by the federal government — recommends approximately $450 million in large-scale estuary and coastal habitat restoration. The second, the Skokomish River Basin Restoration Project, recommends a $20 million project to open over 40 miles of habitat along the Skokomish River.

·In addition, the Army Corps of Engineers is committed to providing improved fish passage at Mud Mountain Dam, located on the White River, with an initial $23 million included in the President's FY2017 budget to begin construction and a total project cost estimated at over $100 million.

"In Washington state, we know how critical it is to protect our natural resources, not only for the environment, but also to respect tribal treaty rights, preserve our cultural identity and spur continued economic growth," said Murray, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who has fought successfully for federal investments in Puget Sound. "This partnership across all levels of government is a strong step forward to taking better care of the Puget Sound, and as a voice for our state in the nation's capital, I'm proud to make sure these important investments get the attention they deserve."

“Puget Sound is at the core of our region’s identity and prosperity. We must restore and preserve the Sound for generations to come,” said Cantwell, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and has long been a champion for Puget Sound.

“Today’s announcement is a significant step toward restoring Puget Sound and protecting everything from salmon and orca habitat, to tourism, to our precious environment and our regional economy.”

“Puget Sound is an environmental, economic and cultural treasure for both our local communities and — as demonstrated by this federal partnership — our entire country,” said Larsen, a senior member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee who last month led a successful effort in the House to authorize $450 million for PSNERP. “Coupled with our recent efforts in Congress to boost the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project, the actions and resources announced today will help support the serious investment and stewardship needed to save the Sound.”

You can read more about the federal Puget Sound recovery actions announced today at the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) website.

Media Contacts

Governor Inslee’s Communications Office | 360.902.4136  

Kerry Arndt, Senator Murray | 202.224.2834           

Bryan Watt, Senator Cantwell| 202.224.8277                      

Kati Rutherford, Rep. Heck | 202.226.4027              

Jason Phelps, Rep. Kilmer | 202.225.5916           

Douglas Wagoner, Rep. Larsen | 202.225.2605