Jeanne Kohl-Welles

The Environment: Expanding Transit, Protecting Puget Sound, Facing Climate Change

The Environment:  My Overall Priorities

  • Increase transit routes, service hours and access, as well as Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) affordable housing near transit centers and hubs.
  • Rapidly decrease County greenhouse gas emissions by speeding up the timeline to achieve a zero-emissions bus fleet, electrifying all other County vehicles and immediately ramping up the County’s investment in Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations.
  • Protect Puget Sound, our orcas and our salmon from toxic chemicals including pesticides such as glyphosate, storm water runoff and wastewater effluent.
  • Ensure environmental justice, including equitable access to parks, open space, clean air and clean drinking water.

First-Term Accomplishments and Second Term Priorities

First Term Accomplishments:

  • Sponsored legislation enacted in 2016 requesting a study from Metro on feasibility of achieving a zero emissions or carbon-neutral bus and van pool fleet (and recently introduced legislation being referred to as “Jump Start” to speed up that timeline and to include all County-owned vehicles, and to increase the number of electric vehicle (EV) battery-charging stations to 500 throughout King County);
  • Sponsored legislation to preserve vital and at-risk open space lands across the County and waived matching requirements in areas that have historically lacked access to open space;
  • Sponsored budget proviso in the fall of 2018 to update and strengthen the County’s pest management policies, with the goal of reducing our use of highly toxic chemicals like glyphosate;
  • Obtained funding in the 2019-2020 Biennial budget for 200,000 hours of increased bus service, as well as funding for bases to maintain current and future bus fleets;
  • Sponsored six-month moratorium on development of fossil fuel infrastructure in the unincorporated parts of the county, requiring the Executive to report on the impact of expanding coal terminals, oil pipelines, and other fossil fuel projects and to provide the Council with recommendations on converting to clean energy sources (voted to extend ban this past July);
  • Secured funding in the 2019-2020 Biennial Budget to study the impact of wastewater effluent, stormwater and industrial waste on Southern Resident orcas and their main prey, Chinook salmon (in the process of finalizing research protocols being undertaken by scientists at the University of Washington and NOAA);
  • Was the Council lead on the construction of the CSOs and tunnel between Fremont/Wallingford and Ballard to handle overflow;
  • Increased funding for additional affordable Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) units;   
  • Sponsored legislation requiring the County to contract for an independent investigation (AECOM) of the catastrophic failure at the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, and to implement AECOM’s subsequent recommendations, as well as to address the need for new infrastructure as West Point is now over 50 years old;
  • Sponsored legislation for staff retention and whistleblower protections at the West Point Wastewater Treatment plant;
  • Obtained funding in the budget to expand screening for lead poisoning, targeted to children and residents of affordable housing;
  • Sponsored budget proviso regarding income-based fares for low- and zero- income Metro riders (the recommendations are due Sep. 30th, 2019 with full implementation by April 2020);
  • Sponsored legislation to waive enforcement of Metro transit fares when Metro activates its Emergency Snow Network, encouraging people to use transit and avoid driving during severe snowstorms;
  • Created a waterfront transportation work group from which the free waterfront shuttle was established and was able to get a new bus stop added at Broad and First in Belltown;
  • Introduced “Jump Start” legislation to increase the County’s Electric Vehicle (EV) infrastructure by adding charging stations on County properties such as transit parking structures, County parks, libraries, and other County facilities, and to require they be included in any new County facilities, as well as at community centers in low-income communities.

Second-Term Priorities:

  • Continue to advocate for increased transit and increased EV infrastructure.  Specifically, increased service hours, availability and accessibility of transit options throughout the region, both through Metro Transit and Sound Transit and increased availability of EV charging stations throughout the county;
  • Monitor the implementation of PSTAA (Puget Sound Taxpayer Accountability Act) that I sponsored with CM Joe McDermott and that will provide approximately $318 million for new early learning facilities, K-12 programs, college and career support for underserved youth in King County;
  • Use my leadership position as Chair of the King County Board of Health to call attention to the severe public health threats and inequitable impacts of climate change and pollution and to increase support for funding programs that reduce air pollution, water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Speed up transition to zero-emissions:  Continuing to work with Metro Transit to speed up the timeline for achieving a zero-emissions bus and van fleet;
  • Continue to advocate for increased screening and treatment for lead poisoning in children;
  • Increase protection of Puget Sound by focusing on reducing the use of pesticides and other toxic chemicals; monitoring the County’s implementation of recommended changes – resulting from Council mandate – in the aftermath of the failure of the West Point Treatment Plant; coordinating with the City of Seattle on management of CSO systems and reducing lead in drinking water;
  • Preserve the Growth Management Act and implement the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2050, pushing for land-use decisions that are just and equitable, including increased transit-oriented development and equitable decisions on distributing growth and siting pollution-creating facilities. 
  • Protect wildlife and marine habitat, including monitoring the study I proposed and got funded on the impact of wastewater effluent on marine life, especially Southern Resident orcas and Chinook salmon.
  • Oversee implementation of the voter-approved Parks Levy, including my amendments creating a Youth Conservation Corps and updating a feasibility study of establishing a pedestrian water taxi between Ballard and Downtown;
  • Advocate for environmental justice: Pollution-creating facilities and infrastructure are disproportionately sited in low-income communities and communities of color, leading to serious public health consequences.  I am committed to continue working with groups dedicated to environmental justice, including “Front and Centered,” an organized coalition of groups rooted in impacted communities that work together to advocate for environmental equity and justice.

Equitable access to green spaces, clean air and drinking water, transit and health care, especially for historically marginalized groups, is critical.  I will continue to examine all policies through the use of an equity and social justice lens, and using a public health and equity lens for many issues that come up on the Board of Health and on the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee, both of which I chair. I consider environmental health and equity to be serious public health issues.

Background and More Information:


District Four is dealing with rapid growth and needs expanded service, from the densely populated areas in Downtown, Belltown, and South Lake Union through the Interbay and Aurora corridors to Fremont, Ballard, Crown Hill, and Sunset Hill, all the way north to Shoreline, east of I-5 and beyond.  I have been participating in a workgroup I started last year with Seattle City Councilmember and Rep. Gael Tarleton on the Interbay Corridor transportation needs as well as addressing the need for replacement of the Magnolia Bridge with a multi-modal bridge for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists. I’ve also been working to fill the service gap on the waterfront and in northwest Belltown.  Not only will more frequent and accessible transit allow people to travel more quickly through our region, but it also means fewer emissions and cleaner air for us all.

Ensuring timely construction of the Sound Transit 3 light rail link to Ballard and creating a Ballard-to-Downtown water taxi route will also be top priorities to expand transit.  I am committed to restoring public transit in some form to the Shilshole Bay and Sunset Hill neighborhoods.

Access to transit is especially important for people trying to make their way out of poverty and homelessness.  King County is working hard to implement my legislation for low and no-cost transit fares for Metro’s lowest-income passengers, ensuring they can get themselves and their families to work, school, the doctor and other vital services. I am committed to meeting our goal and implementing this program in 2020.

Climate Change

Climate change is an urgent issue of public health and equity. Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief Medical Officer for Public Health — Seattle-King County calls climate change “the most serious health threat currently facing [hu]mankind.”

I was elected Chair of the Seattle-King County Board of Health (BOH) last February and am also Chair of the Council’s Health, Housing and Human Services Committee.  I use these platforms to call attention to the severe public health threat and inequitable impacts of climate change and pollution and to increase support for funding services and programs that reduce pollution and increase access to parks and open space.

To a large extent, the focus in King County for reducing emissions involves transit and land-use decisions, but it also affects decisions about how we deliver and prioritize public health services.  Just a few of the health impacts we can expect to see include increasing cases of respiratory disease, heart attacks, strokes and possibly certain cancers, such as lung cancer.

Developing housing – especially affordable housing – close to transit hubs is also critical.  I secured funding in the 2019-2020 Biennial Budget for several transit-oriented affordable housing developments, including one for pre-design work at North Seattle College across I-5 from the Northgate Transit Center, which will be easily accessed on the pedestrian bridge being built.  I also pushed for increased funding for TODs (transit-oriented developments) in the Hotel/Motel tax allocations.

It is important to protect and expand the green spaces that we have available in our County. This is why I sponsored the legislation for the renewal of the 2020-2025 Parks, Trails and Open Space Levy that was approved by voters. As climate change continues to impact us, we must prioritize urban green space and tree cover in the interest of a healthier planet and a healthier public.  I believe lack of access to nature can have long-term impacts to our children.

Water Quality: Puget Sound, Orcas and Clean Drinking Water

Like so many others, I was heart-broken as I watched an Orca mother carry her deceased calf with her for weeks last summer and when a juvenile Orca named Scarlett died from starvation. 

Protecting Puget Sound, including our orcas and salmon, is a top priority for me.  We must do more to keep toxic chemicals out of the Sound.  I added funding to the budget to update the County’s Integrated Pest Management program and reduce our use of toxic pesticides, like Glyphosate.  These toxic chemicals run off with storm water when it rains and pollute our waters. 

During my first term, I led the Council in addressing the causes, recovery and new protocols related to the 2017 catastrophic failure of the West Point Treatment plant in Magnolia. I spearheaded the legislation calling for an independent, third party investigation into the causes of the accident and recommendations for correcting them.  I am diligently monitoring how the County implements the recommendations in the report and establishes new protocols to ensure such a failure is never repeated.

Not only am I focused on keeping Puget Sound clean, but I have also been focused on getting lead out of the water in our schools.  I obtained funding in the budget to expand screening for lead poisoning, especially in children and residents of affordable housing, and have included this as a public health initiative this year in the Board of Health’s agenda. 

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