Laura Watson Named Director of Ecology

portrait of Laura Watson
Newly-appointed Dept. of Ecology Director Laura Watson

From the Office of Gov. Jay Inslee:

OLYMPIA–Gov. Jay Inslee named Laura Watson director of the Washington State Department of Ecology today. She replaces Maia Bellon, who Inslee appointed in 2013.

“Laura is a proven leader who is deeply committed to protecting our state’s air, water and land,” Inslee said. “She has a deep understanding of the crucial work Ecology does statewide and was at the center of some of the most important issues in recent years. I know she will build on the transformative work that Maia has done at Ecology and I look forward to welcoming her to my cabinet.”

Watson is currently the senior assistant attorney general in the Ecology Division of the Attorney General’s Office. As chief legal counsel to the Director of the Department of Ecology, she provided advice and representation to Ecology’s 10 environmental programs and to the agency’s administration.

Watson was also a former deputy solicitor general at the Solicitor General’s Office in the Attorney General’s Office.

She served as Washington’s lead counsel on several legal challenges to the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental protections and is representing Washington in its challenge to EPA’s proposed repeal of Washington’s fish consumption rule. She has also defended the state’s environmental laws in the Washington State Supreme Court, including a case that upheld the state’s multi-million dollar hazardous substance tax. More recently, she defended a case about the state’s landmark greenhouse gas regulation, the Clean Air Rule.

Watson has advised on a wide array of Washington’s most pressing environmental issues including: cleanup at the Hanford nuclear site, toxics reduction strategies, protection of the State’s Clean Water Act authority against federal intrusion, and options for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Watson volunteered with Thurston County Volunteer Legal Services, providing legal advice to low-income residents. She currently volunteers with Quixote Communities, a non-profit organization that builds and operates tiny homes, which offers permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless individuals.

Watson earned her law degree from the University of Washington School of Law. She earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy, with a women’s studies certificate, from the University of Pittsburgh. She lives in West Olympia with her husband, Dan, who is a professor of mechanical engineering at St. Martin’s University. Their daughter, Violet, is in middle school and is spearheading the family’s efforts to become a zero-waste household.

Bellon is the longest serving ecology director in Washington state history. She steps down from the director position later this month.

“Maia’s leadership at Ecology and comprehensive understanding of issues that affect our state has protected Washington’s quality of life and its economy,” Inslee said. “I thank Maia for her years of service and for all she has done for Washington.”

WA’s Ecology Director on Native Knowledge and Fighting for Forgotten Communities

Maia Bellon
Washington State Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon was recently interviewed on being Native American and how growing up in the Pacific Northwest shaped her worldview and ignited a passion for working with communities to solve environmental problems.

Editor’s Note: This Article Originally Appeared on CrossCut.

By Hannah Weinberger, CrossCut

Maia Bellon grew up exploring Washington’s woods and coastlines. As Washington’s Department of Ecology director, she’s putting environmental justice front and center.

I grew up below the poverty line, and [outdoor recreation] was our vacation. My parents had us outside all the time — we were swimming, trout fishing in lakes and fly-fishing in rivers. My dad would do things like grab a bunch of  sea kelp and seaweed, wrap himself with it and run after us on the beach pretending to be a sea monster.

I loved romping around in the woods. My father had me convinced as a little kid that some of the moss growing off of trees was Sasquatch hair, so I was the self-appointed Sasquatch tracker. It was wonderful; I loved it. We did a lot of hiking, climbing and camping, while living in Washington, Montana and Northern California on the Fort Bidwell Paiute Indian Reservation. It was all very rural and isolated.

I am part white, and I am part Native. When I was going to a very small rural high school, and half of the school population was native and half was from a non-Indian ranching community, my brother and I were the only two mixed-race children. The bus was divided, and this was 1983! The non-Indian children sat up front and the Native children sat in the back. By the time we moved to Tumwater a few years later, that bus was integrated. Continue reading