It’s no secret that climate progress is having a rough week in Washington, D.C. Here in Washington State, the Inslee administration and others have pressed in the opposite direction--for policies to clean our air and move our state towards a clean-energy economy. So how is climate progress faring in our state legislature, now nearly three quarters of the way through its scheduled annual session, where a number of climate and clean energy-related measures are under consideration?
The short answer is: it’s too early to tell.
Every odd-numbered year in Washington, our legislature sits for a four-month “long session” to determine the state’s biennial budget. But they rarely complete their work in that time, and commonly add “special sessions” at the end. So even though we’re three quarters of the way through regular session, there’s still lots of work left to do.
Here’s what we know about how climate concerns are faring in Olympia this year:
Carbon pricing: There are at least three public proposals to raise revenue for the state from carbon taxes and invest them into clean energy solutions and climate adaptation. One of those is a proposal supported by the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which had a hearing a few weeks ago. While many of the traditional industry sectors came out in opposition, they also acknowledged that this is the first major proposal that includes necessary protection for energy intensive and trade exposed industries and their workers. Several other businesses, like REI, Virginia Mason, a solar company, and the American Institute of Architects, joined advocates from environmental, equity, and labor groups to say that this is exactly the kind of carbon pricing program Washington needs.
While neither chamber included carbon as part of their initial budgets, that doesn’t mean the story is over. Legislative conversations continue and there is a real, if small, chance that carbon pricing is included as part of a final budget deal. At Climate Solutions, we’re committed to making this real and making sure that anything that becomes law in this state not only helps address the climate crisis, but also protects vulnerable populations at the same time.
Alternative fuels: Climate Solutions has worked closely with legislators and the Association of Washington Businesses to promote HB1809, a bill that would expand and repair our state’s underutilized alternative fuels incentive. If passed, the bill would help companies choose electric and other alternative fuel options for their trucks and buses. In the past, Climate Solutions has worked hard on incentives for electric cars, but we know that in order to hit our climate goals we need to get after the largest sources of transportation emissions—heavy duty vehicles that also emit dangerous air pollution in densely populated areas. The bill, sponsored by Democrat Rep. Jake Fey and Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt, passed out of the House of Representatives with 97 votes for and just one against, and is now awaiting action in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Cleaning up our grid: Climate Solutions was a strong supporter of a bill introduced by Rep. Gael Tarleton that would have made sure that Washington no longer invests in expensive and unsustainable natural gas infrastructure. This bill unfortunately died in committee in early February, but we’re committed to working hard to make this proposal law in the future—either at the legislature or through a vote of the people.
Budget: Climate Solutions is tracking a variety of items in the three state budgets—Operating, Transportation and Capital. Neither chamber has released a capital budget yet, where we do expect significant investments in transportation electrification, renewables, and energy efficiency. Both chambers have released their Operating and Transportation budgets though, and each include important items. Both the Senate and the House dedicate incoming money from the Volkswagen settlement to deploying new clean vehicles in the state, though the House leaves the work primarily to experts at state agencies, and the Senate requires ongoing legislative participation. The House version of the budget also directs the agencies to ensure that new vehicles are deployed in areas that have disproportionately suffered from fossil fuel pollution, an important and reasonable measure.
Unfortunately, the Senate budget redirects a portion of the Volkswagen settlement intended to remove the highly polluting vehicles from the road to other uses. This is both not eligible under the consent decree, and would continue exposing Washington residents to dangerous levels of pollution that have been linked to leukemia, lung disease and other serious health impacts. We’ll work to make sure that the final budget protects consumers and our clean air.
There’s a long way still to go and much work left to do, advocating for healthy Washington communities, clean energy and a stable climate. If you’re looking for us, we’ll be in Olympia!