Meet our director

Ecology Director Laura Watson

Laura Watson, Director
Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington Department of Ecology logo

Appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee
in January 2020

 


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. Her husband, Dan, is a professor of mechanical engineering at St. Martin's University and their teenage daughter, Violet, spearheads the family's efforts to become a zero-waste household.

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.


Laura Watson’s top Ecology priorities

Earth with thermometer

Climate change
Climate change threatens Washington’s water supplies, coastlines, forests, and the communities and industries that depend on those natural resources. Laura believes we need to take bold action to reduce the impacts of climate change in Washington and to reduce the carbon pollution that contributes to this crisis.

“Environmental justice is about achieving the highest environmental quality for all of Washington’s diverse communities"  - Laura Watson

A balanced scale

Environmental justice
Ecology’s mission is to protect, preserve, and enhance Washington’s environment. Every one of us deserves clean air, land, and water, but the burdens of environmental pollution are not shared equitably. Communities of color, low-income areas, and indigenous people bear a larger share of the health and economic impacts posed by toxic contamination, diesel emissions and air pollution, and climate change. Laura is committed to addressing these inequities as Ecology works to clean up past contamination and prevent future pollution. She also pledged to include environmental justice and equity criteria in our legislative and budget processes.

Leaf with rotating arrows around it

Reversing federal environmental rollbacks
Under the previous White House administration, the federal government promoted new rules and policies designed to roll back or eliminate major protections for air quality, water quality, climate, and the scientific research that supports regulatory decisions. Laura believes these rollbacks pose a risk to the health of Washington’s people and the state’s environment. She has testified against these policies, worked with Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson to challenge them in court, and will continue working to see that these critical protections are restored.

Mountains with waves of water beneath

Protecting and restoring Puget Sound
A healthy Puget Sound, the nation’s largest estuary, is as vital to the economy as it is to the environment. Laura works to strengthen already strong partnerships, continue financial support to Puget Sound communities, and boost ongoing efforts to reduce pollution into the Sound and surrounding watersheds. As the region grows, more human sources of nutrients find their way into the Sound. Ecology is working on multiple fronts to reduce this pollution, including a general permit for wastewater treatment plants to limit nutrient discharges.

“While many of our environmental issues are technical and complex, the way we talk about them shouldn’t be.”  - Laura Watson

Nuclear atom

Cleaning up Hanford
Since plutonium production ended at Hanford in the late 1980s, the federal government has repeatedly acknowledged its legal and moral obligation to clean up the toxic, radioactive contamination left behind in Southeast Washington. Laura is committed to working as a partner with Hanford-area communities and with the U.S. Department of Energy to keep the cleanup on track. She also has pledged to ensuring that the work meets environmental standards that will protect the region now and for future generations.


Find out more about Laura Watson and Ecology

Environmental justice at Ecology

Seattle Times guest op-ed

Ecology's strategic plan

Gov. Jay Inslee's announcement of Laura's appointment

For the past 50 years, Ecology has been here to protect, preserve, and enhance Washington's environment for current and future generations. Watch more of our videos on YouTube