Update and Water and Ecology by Toni Meacham
One of my cousins told me that I am not getting enough of my original articles put out there on FB. I try (key word there is TRY) to write an article every month for the Ketch Pen, which is published for Cattlemen and Cattlewomen. The purpose of the article is to inform the WCA membership on issues that are new in the law, with an emphasis on water and ecology. In January I also hit on a few taxation matters. Here is my January article:
Two big pieces of news have come out of the natural resource arena: 1) We have a new director of the Department of Ecology as Maia Bellon resigned and moved to private practice with Cascadia Law Group. Cascadia Law Group is the self-proclaimed “preeminent environmental law firm in the Pacific Northwest, with unparalleled abilities to solve the most difficult environmental challenges facing the region.” It was disappointing to see Director Bellon resign, but hopefully the progress that agriculture made under her reign can continue under the directorship of Lisa Watson who was appointed by Governor Inslee. 2) President Trump announced that his administration will overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was enacted in the the 70s to ensure that environmental consequences were considered when governmental agencies were proposing any action. To say that NEPA needs modernization is an understatement. NEPA is used (or misused) in environmental lawsuits to stop or postpone government actions by green groups. The plan proposes to modernize NEPA by reforming the permitting process, inclusive of designation of a lead agency that would produce a single combined review, but the biggest improvement would be to require a two-year deadline on the process. Whatever the finished product looks like, one can be assured that there will be challenges from one side or the other, or potentially all sides. The ag industry is hoping the common sense values will prevail in this update which will allow environmental concerns to be considered, but not be the only consideration in the process.
The on-going debate over Snake River dams still wages. More than 300 people showed up to Clarkston Washington at the beginning of January to discuss the future of the Snake River, inclusive of its dams, threatened salmon and steelhead runs, agriculture and power production. Much of the discussion centered around the 115 page Orca Task Force report commissioned by Governor Inslee after he determined that Orca populations were threatened. The environmentalists seem to have simplified this issue by repeating rhetoric that power and transportation can easily be replaced, yet no plan of how has been proposed. It should also be noted that NOAA fisheries has publicly stated that some salmon and steelhead populations are recovering. NOAA fisheries has also stated that dams do impact fish populations, but millions of dollars has been spent to study and reduce impacts and get the fish through the dams. Good science must be used in this debate about dams rather than generalized comments which are not based in fact.
Although taxation is not usually what my monthly articles pertain to, there are two taxation issues that are of interest and should be noted by the WCA membership. The first is the fact that once again agriculture is being accused of failing to pay taxes. Senator John McCoy from Tulalip stated that farmers and ranchers “do not pay any taxes; none whatsoever.” Luckily Pam Lewiston from the Washington Policy Center, published a Policy Note in January 2020 titled “Yes, farmers pay taxes: A review of taxation imposed on Washington state farmers and ranchers.” This seven page document details all aspects of taxation imposed upon our ag industry. The conclusion is that “In fact, based upon the conservative estimates in this study, farmers and ranchers paid approximately $922,849,000 in taxes in 2018.” Clearly everyone reading this article knows that the ag industry pays its fair share of taxes, yet once again elected officials did not take the time to make an informed comment and have tried to vilify agriculture. To see Pam’s full article go to
My last taxation note is to briefly discuss the “Mansion Tax.” This is a tax that came into effect January 1, 2020. This is a tax that is based upon the sales tax of a home and paid at closing on a sale. The tax is collected through the Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) collection in the closing process. Most people do not sell enough real estate to know that the REET tax has increased, but for those of us that deal in real estate law, this is a big change. Under the new tax, properties that sell above $1.5 million dollars will go from being taxed 1.28% on the sale price to 2.75%. Homes that sell for more that $3 million will be taxed at 3% of the gross sales price. In Washington the REET tax is generally considered a Seller’s tax, meaning that in Washington, if you sell a home that has some value, you are giving the Washington Department of Revenue an even bigger piece of that sale. At first glance, this probably doesn’t impact many of our members, but the interesting part of this tax is that not many people knew about it. Very few protested it. Currently there is an exemption for ag, but to me, the quickness and efficiency of this increased tax should serve as a warning for the future. If Washington state determines in the future that they need more money, that ag exemption may go away.
As we look forward to spring and the best time of the year (calving season), please keep in mind that as you take pictures of those new calves with your cell phones or jot down notes in your calving book, take the time to jot down notes or take pictures of the environmental condition of your range. What wildlife is out there? What do you see? How does your riparian area look? Look at your land with new eyes. What needs to be improved? What are you doing well? Remember that we need to tell our tale of the positive environmental conditions that we bring. We are true stewards of the land and must continue to do the best that we can. I would challenge everyone to keep a log of what you see if not on a daily basis, at least once per week. The best defense is a good offense. Take the time now to know what you are doing right so when a challenge comes, you are ready.