On Monday morning, Jan. 15, 2024, Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33rd District) and Rep. Tina Orwall (D-33rd District) held a press conference in Olympia, announcing new legislation aimed at mitigating environmental and health impacts of Sea-Tac Airport on surrounding communities.

In addition to Keiser and Orwall, officials in attendance included SeaTac Mayor Mohamed Egal, Des Moines City Councilmember JC Harris, and Des Moines City Councilmember Gene Achziger.

The new bill(s) – which will be discussed in hearings on Tuesday, Jan. 16 – would reduce noise and air pollution for residents by providing soundproofing for residences, air purifiers for schools, and increased green space, among other interventions.

Senate Bill 5955 and its companion House Bill 2103 would require port districts, like the Port of Seattle operating Sea-Tac, to dedicate a portion of new tax revenue to address noise and air pollution concerns near large airports. The legislation comes amid growing awareness of environmental justice issues disproportionately affecting minority and low-income communities.

In 2019, a study by the Department of Health revealed that a majority of Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander residents live within 10 miles of the airport. This population faces higher risks of premature birth, asthma, stroke, diabetes, and other health problems, the study found.

The proposed measures outline steps like providing soundproofing for homes, air purifiers for schools, and expanding green spaces to combat noise and air pollution.

Port of Seattle Responds

On Monday, the Port of Seattle responded to South King Media’s request for a response with the following statement:

“We appreciate the legislators focus on the near SEA Airport communities but have significant concerns about the legislation as it is currently written, including proposed governance and funding changes.

“The Port has worked hard for years with our near-airport communities to create opportunities for engagement and discussions around issues related to the airport. This includes one of the country’s most robust and long-standing sound insulation programs in alignment with FAA regulations and guidelines, the creation of the South King County Community Impact Fund, and the SEA Stakeholder Advisory Round Table.

“The Port has had ongoing discussions with the sponsors of this legislation and is committed to working together to find common ground in support of near airport communities.”

Video

Numerous local politicians, activists and residents also spoke at the meeting – watch the full press conference below:

YouTube player

Quotes from the Press Conference

From Sen. Keiser:

“On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are here to demand economic and social justice for the people who are living in our airport communities, which in our view is about a 10-mile circumference from Sea-Tac International Airport.

“The whole area is a majority/minority community with a large population of African Americans, Asians, Hispanic folks, and people of immigrants from all over the world. It’s incredibly diverse, but it is also incredibly burdened.

“So today we are echoing his call for the residents of our airport communities who are burdened with 24/7 air and noise pollution. The Seattle King County Public Health Department in a 2022 report to the legislature about the health status in our airport communities found that residents of our airport communities have a higher rate of death from heart disease from respiratory disease, a higher rate of asthma, and in fact have a lower life expectancy. The closer you live to the airport, the more you are burdened with a lower life expectancy – up to five years lower than the rest of the people of King County. If you live within one mile of the airport, these are facts, and that’s why we are now insisting that the Port of Seattle address these health and economic and social injustices, not only with words, but with actual revenue.”

Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines):

“The bills in front of you will do three things. They will expand HEPA purifiers: we’d like to see those in all schools, daycares, and senior centers. We also would like to see more indoor spaces for recreation. The second thing: it will protect our green spaces. Trees and parks are really important to our area, and we need to protect those, especially old-growth trees. The third is to help our residents in the community, starting with people with failed port packages.”

Des Moines resident/lawyer/filmmaker/activist Steve Edmiston:

“What we know now – starting with the World Health Organization in 2017 and more recently with our scientists in this state studying our airport, is that noise hurts humans, noise at a level of an airplane hurts humans. We know that ultra fine particles from airplanes also hurts humans.”

“Before we start getting an adversarial relationship and we wag a finger at the Port, these bills have been carefully thought out on how to be fair to the Port and it’s exciting how the bills are constructed to be fair to the port.

“So let me give you a number: $1 billion dollars – with a B – in 2024 or budgeted to be a billion dollars. That’s the money coming in. These bills in year one will provide $800,000 dollars.

“I think it’s fundamentally fair that that tiny amount be returned to mitigate in those cities in terms of the level of what we’re talking about, the levy that to King County taxpayers pay.”

Maria Batayola, community activist:

“We don’t have the time to wait, because our lives —and our health—are impacted.”

Mayor Mohamed Egal, SeaTac:

“While the airport is the largest employer in our community, it also has massive negative impacts on our city and surrounding communities.”

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Provide Feedback to Lawmakers

If you would like to help reduce noise and air pollution around Sea-Tac Airport, click these bill numbers and register your support for Senate Bill 5955 and House Bill 2103 before Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

Rep. Tina Orwall, Mr. Lee and Sen. Karen Keiser in front of a mold-covered window installed by the Port of Seattle.

“For years, my seatmates and I have heard stories from constituents about the negative effects that noise and air pollution from Sea-Tac Airport have on them and their families,” Sen. Keiser added. “More than a decade ago, the Port of Seattle used federal money to provide some residents with sound-dampening windows and other mitigations, but unfortunately many of these have failed. You can see the window they installed for Mr. Lee many years ago — it’s full of mold between the panes, but he has been on a waiting list for a replacement for eight years.”

Hearings Set for Tuesday, Jan. 16

Hearings for the bills have been scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024:

  • SB 5955: Senate Local Government, Land Use & Tribal Affairs Committee, 8 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16, in Senate Hearing Room 3 and on TVW
  • HB 2103: House Local Government Committee, 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16, in House Hearing Room E and on TVW.

The 33rd District includes east Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac, Des Moines and parts of Kent, Tukwila, and Renton.

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