Meet our director

Ecology Director Laura Watson


Laura Watson, Director
Washington State Department of Ecology

Laura Watson listens.

She listens to Washingtonians who, like her, love this state and want to see its beauty and its future preserved. She listens to tribes and communities of color and others who are disproportionately affected by the harmful effects of pollution. She listens to business owners, farmers, city dwellers and rural residents alike.

She listens with an open mind, and she’s committed to continuing the agency’s legacy of building strong relationships. First she looks for common ground. She’ll seek to transform debate into discussion, to mediate rather than escalate. Laura is open not just to hearing all sides, but to empathizing with divergent viewpoints. With her background in philosophy, women’s studies and law, she’s well situated to understand all sides, and to know where and when compromise is possible.

An innately hopeful person, she believes complex challenges can be solved creatively by keeping lines of communication open. By negotiating resolutions and avoiding litigation whenever possible.

But she’s also exceptionally well prepared, when necessary, to take decisive action to protect the environment and to defend the interests of the state and its people.   

As a lawyer for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, she oversaw the 38-member environmental division, including her last five years as chief legal counsel for Ecology. As a leader in that office, she helped build a strong team that successfully defended the state’s environment on the full spectrum of challenging issues – from climate change to toxics reduction, air and water quality to cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

She also believes it’s essential to view the agency’s work through an equity lens. She understands that protecting the environment is a social justice issue and knows environmental problems may affect each community differently.

Although Laura grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa., she considers herself a Washingtonian. She’s inspired by the state’s natural beauty, and she’s convinced we all want the same things – a thriving environment and a thriving economy. And she knows those goals aren’t mutually exclusive, that in fact they can and must support and enhance each other.

When she moved to Washington to attend law school, she instantly fell in love with the natural beauty of the state and has lived here her entire adult life. Today, Laura and her family are proud to call Olympia home.

Laura 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.

To learn more about Laura’s work at Ecology, follow her on Twitter at @EcyLauraWatson.