The Puget SOS Act, introduced in 2015 by Reps. Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck of Washington state, passed through the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee by voice vote Sept. 19.
The bill would establish a Puget Sound Recovery National Program Office in the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate protection and restoration efforts related to Puget Sound, Kilmer spokesman Andrew Wright said on the day of the voice vote.
The bill also would codify the establishment of the Puget Sound Federal Leadership Task Force, which was first created through a 2016 memorandum of understanding by executive action. The task force includes representatives from various agencies that have a role in Puget Sound’s recovery, Wright said.
If passed, the legislation would authorize $50 million each year to carry out the bill’s provisions.
“In our region, we know how important Puget Sound is to our identity and our economy, so it’s exciting to see the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee unanimously advance legislation to enhance the federal government’s role and investment in Puget Sound,” Kilmer said.
The 6th District Democrat said taking action now to protect and restore the Sound is a critical step in recovering salmon populations, ensuring future generations can dig for clams and protecting critical species such as the orca.
The two congressmen co-founded the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus in 2013. The caucus’s priorities, Wright said, are to prevent pollution from urban stormwater runoff; protect and restore habitat; and restore and re-open shellfish beds.
Puget Sound, which is the nation’s largest estuary, has several environmental issues reaching critical mass. Four salmon and steelhead stocks are on the endangered species list; the iconic southern resident orcas are on the verge of extinction, and the shellfish industry faces growing threats of ocean acidification and water pollution, Wright said.