State House committee considers curb of light pollution

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

Rep. Jessyn Farrell

When a bill aimed at curbing light pollution in the State of Washington received a hearing before the House Environment Committee yesterday in Olympia it was the first formal discussion of the topic at the state level in seven years. House Bill 2057 would direct the state Department of Ecology to assess the environmental, economic, and public health effects of light pollution, and to submit the study and policy recommendations for reducing light pollution to the Legislature by next January.

Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle, is the prime sponsor of the legislation.

“This is a really important issue,” Farrell said. “There are lots of studies that do show that there is an impact on human health, the natural environment, property values” from light pollution. “The goal here is to study this and see what the current state of that research is.”

Amateur astronomers testify

Farrell said the issue was brought to her by a constituent, David Dorais, who in testimony before the committee described himself as, “a former traffic engineer who knows something about outdoor lighting, especially for street use and safety. As a lifelong amateur astronomer I also know something about how we can do a much better job of illuminating those places throughout the state that need the banishment of the dark.”

Testimony

L-R: David Dorais, Qiu Min Ji, and David Ingram testified in favor of HB 2057 at a hearing of the state House Environment Committee on Jan. 12, 2016. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

David Ingram, a volunteer who heads up Dark Skies Northwest, the local chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association, called the night sky a natural resource and a wonderment.

“It has inspired architecture, religion, philosophy, science and technology,” Ingram testified. “I don’t know how our young people are going to be similarly inspired if more than half of them don’t even have a contact with the night sky.”

“It’s of vital importance that we look at the question of what happens to the soul of men and women when they’re removed from contact with the night sky,” Ingram said. He added that he doesn’t want to go back to the dark ages, but believes we have the technology to use light to enhance safety, wayfinding, and commerce efficiently and effectively, without blotting out all of the stars in the process.

Amendments likely

There will probably be some changes to the bill before the committee votes on it. Jessica Archer, who is with the scientific arm of the Department of Ecology, suggested that the departments of Health, Fish and Wildlife, and Commerce be brought in on the study, as Ecology lacks the expertise to weigh in on light pollution’s impact on animals, human health, or property values. Archer also suggested that the scope of the study be more clearly spelled out, which will also help them determine the cost of the effort. Farrell said that she might seek to add potential cost savings to the scope of the study. It’s also possible that the deadline for the study will be pushed out; the due date of January 1, 2017 was set when the bill was first drafted last year.

Farrell noted that HB 2057 takes a far more cautious approach than did fairly comprehensive and directive light pollution legislation that was considered in 2008 and 2009. Mark Johnson, representing the Washington Retail Association, testified that his organization wanted to make sure that any consideration of light pollution didn’t have an adverse impact on safety or business. That’s a reason why Farrell went with a deliberate approach.

“I think we should study this and see if there’s further action that we should take,” she said.

Next steps

The bill must gain the approval of the committee by Feb. 5 if it is to come up for a vote in by the entire House. Our hunch is that the supporters have a good chance to accomplish that. The committee chair, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Another member of the committee, Rep. Joan McBride, D-Kirkland, was involved in improving lighting ordinances when she was mayor of that city.

Interested people who were unable to attend Tuesday’s hearing can testify about the bill online. This makes a difference. Write today!

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One thought on “State House committee considers curb of light pollution

  1. Paul Yost

    This bill should be about informing or guiding the public in making wise choices to help preserve the natural beauty of our night sky, as well as improve the character and quality of our neighborhoods. Throwing up nasty blue/white light to obliterate starlight is wasteful and senseless, gross urban graffiti on the pristine Sistine canopy of heaven.

    Solving this problem will permit many more people to gain a deep appreciation of the glorious night sky, currently available only to those who dwell in remote wilderness, or who can afford their own private yachts.

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