Cut carbon pollution, create clean energy jobs: Legislative priorities 2015

Climate change—and climate action—top the list of big issues before the Washington state Legislature in this year's session, which kicks off today. Jobs and education also top the list of priorities for 2015; it will be an important, and likely exciting, few months in Olympia. For one thing, this is a biennial "full session" in which lawmakers adopt a budget, often after debating late into the spring. Climate-related bills on deck this year include a proposal to clean up our air and water by charging top polluters, and a whole slate of measures related to clean energy and jobs.

Climate Solutions is working with community groups, business leaders, labor unions, public health experts and climate advocates across the state to support an ambitious legislative agenda to cut carbon pollution, create clean energy jobs, and clean our air. Here are some of the issues we’ll be watching in Olympia this year.

Carbon Pollution Accountability Act

The centerpiece of Governor Inslee’s climate initiative, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is a straightforward measure to hold Washington’s largest polluters accountable for their global warming pollution. Unlike average Washingtonians who follow burn bans and other pollution laws, oil companies and other major polluters haven’t had any responsibility for their waste -- and it’s costing all of us. A charge on global warming pollution does this, while positioning the Washington economy to thrive.

The revenues collected from the pollution charge can be reinvested in our communities to create a better future for our children. The proposal set forth by Gov. Inslee invests in state budget priorities like education, transportation and the Working Families Tax Credit to support communities most affected by climate change. Climate Solutions is committed to science-based pollution limits that are legally enforceable and socially equitable. The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act achieves all three. Learn more from our friends at the Sightline Institute about why the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is “a big, awesome deal.”

Clean Fuels Standard

Transportation fuels cause nearly half of Washington’s carbon pollution and two-thirds of Puget Sound’s air quality problems. A clean fuels standard (CFS) offers consumers more choices at the pump while cleaning up our air by incorporating a greater proportion of clean fuels into our transportation mix. Using more clean alternatives to petroleum like electricity, renewable natural gas and sustainable biofuels, we can clean up our air and water while growing investment in Washington’s economy. An independent analysis this summer found that a CFS would create thousands of jobs and generate millions in additional economic value over the next ten years.

The Department of Ecology has the ability to implement a CFS to improve the health and economy of Washington right away and Gov. Inslee has directed the agency to begin drafting a rule. No doubt this will incite the oil companies to promote legislation that would prohibit Ecology from acting in the interest of Washingtonians. We will vigilantly defend Ecology’s ability to protect our air, water and economy from dirty oil while urging Gov. Inslee to commence a formal rulemaking on a CFS.

Clean Energy Fund and the capital budget

One of the best ways for Washington to lead on climate is to invest in the next generation of clean energy technologies and businesses. The Clean Energy Fund has already proven to be a successful vehicle for bringing promising technologies to scale. The first iteration of the fund used $40 million in state funding to leverage $200 million in private capital to create jobs in energy efficiency, smart grid modernization and innovative energy storage technologies. Given the proven success of the initial fund, we will be advocating for an increased budget allocation as well renewed funding for other energy efficiency programs that have created jobs, saved money and reduced pollution across the state.

Additional clean energy bills

We’ll also be closely following numerous efforts to expand Washington’s clean energy economy:

  • We are supporting efforts to increase the number of electric vehicles on the road in Washington through financial incentives and the Zero-Emissions Vehicle program with proven success in a number of states that have health and economic benefits for Washington.
  • Efforts to transition from imported coal power to clean energy similar to the landmark 2011 agreement to transition the Centralia coal-fired power plant.
  • Efforts to improve and extended policies that expand solar power in Washington.
  • Promoting energy efficiency through updated building codes that also support electric vehicles and solar systems.
  • We will continue to defend the clean energy gains we have made through the Energy Independence Act (I-937) and look to the future for how we can continue to clean up and diversify our electricity grid.

This is one of the most exciting legislative sessions in recent memory. The policies being brought forward by climate champions in the Legislature are impressive not only in their ambition but also their quality. But legislators cannot do this alone. We need to match these unprecedented efforts with renewed advocacy engagement. If there was ever a session to double your activism, this is it. Join a phone bank, talk to your friends and family, attend a town hall and above all, make sure your stance is known in Olympia. Now is the time to act on climate, let’s get to work!

Of course, if you have any questions about the session, please feel free to let us know.

Author Bio

Jessica Finn Coven

former Washington State Director, Climate Solutions

Jessica Finn Coven is Director of the City of Seattle's Office of Sustainability & Environment.

Jessica previously served as the Washington State Director of Climate Solutions where her work focused on developing legislative and policy strategies to reduce global warming pollution and grow an equitable clean-energy economy in Washington State. Jessica first joined Climate Solutions in 2007 as a policy specialist and worked to further clean energy policy in Washington through the state’s Energy Independence Act, Climate Action and Green Jobs law and others.

Jessica also worked as the program director for the U.S. Climate Action Network. From 2002- 2005, she was a global warming campaigner for Greenpeace in Washington DC. She also spent several months working in Beijing as a policy advisor for Greenpeace China.

Jessica received her MA in economics and energy policy from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and her BA in Mandarin from Barnard College, Columbia University.

Jessica currently sits on the board of Washington Conservation Voters. She lives in Seattle with her husband, young son and old dog.