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WA session ends with historic investments in clean energy and environmental justice

Washington’s 2023 legislative session drew to a close earlier this week with a significant list of climate accomplishments, thanks in large part to the availability of some $2 billion in Climate Commitment Act funding earmarked for clean energy and environmental justice projects. As detailed in Climate Solutions’ post-session breakdown, The Legislature made significant new investments in clean energy, including a program to help local governments, school districts, and small businesses purchase zero-emissions heavy vehicles and EV charging infrastructure, and programs subsidizing heat pumps and energy efficiency upgrades. Legislators also directed CCA funds to reducing air pollution in overburdened communities—addressing health disparities as well as climate impacts—and to carbon-sequestering forest conservation

Updates to state land use rules will allow for more housing density in cities—reducing the need for driving, and thus cutting pollution. Residents’ health will benefit from a new prohibition against utilities shutting off water or electricity service during periods of extreme heat. Finally, building new clean energy projects in Washington should be faster and easier thanks to new updates to siting and permitting processes—preparing more efficient review protocols while perserving careful environmental reviews and opportunities for community consultation.

Berkeley gas ban overturned by circuit court

Nationwide momentum to transition homes and buildings off fossil fuels has been rising since Berkeley, CA’s 2019 ordinance requiring all-electric new construction. Since 2019, over 104 jurisdictions across the U.S., including states and cities, have taken action to clean up new construction and promote electrification (including in Washington and Oregon). The result? Massive growth in heat pumpsinvestment monies continuing to flow, and ire and targeted legal action by the gas industry. This month the 9th Circuit invalidated Berkeley’s ordinance on the grounds it preempted federal law. The lawsuit was financially backed by SoCalGas, the nation’s largest gas utility. Notably, while the vast majority of building electrification policies throughout the U.S. are not threatened by the 9th Circuit's ruling, this decision is likely to affect a small number of cities in the 9th circuit that took the same legal approach as Berkeley. Climate advocates in Washington and Oregon are still assessing the ruling's potential ramifications for existing building electrification policies and current efforts to pass new policies, as in Eugene, OR, where gas industry opposition to the city's recent new-construction gas ban has been making national news.

Supreme Court keeps city/state fossil fuel lawsuits alive

In recent years, a number of US cities and states filed lawsuits against major fossil fuel companies, alleging that they knowingly violated consumer protection laws by deceiving the public about their products’ negative environmental effects. The fossil fuel companies have sought to stall these legal proceedings and filed motions to have the suits transferred to the federal court system, where they hoped to get more sympathetic treatment. 

This week, however, the US Supreme Court frustrated those hopes by declining fossil fuel industry requests to transfer the lawsuits to federal jurisdiction.The decision is being hailed by environmental and climate advocates; it clears the way for each local or state lawsuit to proceed, and may force fossil fuel companies to face jury trials in each affected jurisdiction. 

Undoing gaseous greenwashing

Gas-fueled projects further the use of so-called “natural” gas—primarily methane, which is “a super polluter greenhouse gas over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.” Yet this month, the American Clean Power Association launched a renewed effort to push Congress to allow more fossil fuel infrastructure. The industry’s threatening message to lawmakers: “clean energy projects won’t move forward without a compromise that allows fossil fuel infrastructure to advance as well.” 

Meanwhile in Europe, the gas industry is stoking energy security fears related to the continued war on Ukraine, to make the case for continued reliance on gas. At the same time, non-governmental groups filed legal action against the European Union executive branch to prevent “natural gas and nuclear power generation” from being included on a list of “sustainable activities.” 

Contrary to decades of industry greenwashing portraying “natural” gas as safe and clean, there is robust scientific evidence (and increasing media coverage of the health and climate dangers of gas. Articles published this week in Bloomberg and The Drum highlight new efforts by environmental, climate and public health advocates to counter decades of misleading fossil fuel marketing branding gas as safe and healthy.

Tucker Carlson’s environmental legacy

On the occasion of popular right-wing TV host Tucker Carlson’s sudden ouster from Fox News’ prime-time schedule, climate journalist Emily Atkin reviews Carlson’s ugly history of advocating a greenwashed form of white nationalism, a racist faux-environmental ideology referred to as “eco-fascism.”

One thing you can do

What’s in a word? “Natural gas” is not so natural—it’s a fossil fuel pollutant, a contributor to global warming, and a threat to public health. Check out this short explainer and share it with others.

Author Bio

Jonathan Lawson

Senior Editor, Climate Solutions

As Senior Editor, Jonathan provides editorial management and guidance for Climate Solutions’ communications channels, including the organization’s website, social media, and email. He creates, assigns and curates materials for publication, and assesses the effectiveness of the organization’s communications strategies through measurement and analysis, and provides communications support for Climate Solutions programs and initiatives.

Before joining Climate Solutions in 2014, Jonathan served as Executive Director of the communications rights organization Reclaim the Media, where he played a catalytic role in fueling the growth of a national movement focused on media justice and democratizing media and communications policy. He also spent more than eight years providing communications strategy, digital communications and design to statewide labor organizations including SEIU and WFSE/AFSCME, writing op-eds by day and designing giant puppets by night.

A past board member of the Washington News Council and of Seattle Improvised Music, he is also a veteran of the Independent Media Center movement, and has worked in community radio since 1986; for 19 years he produced the weekly creative music program Flotation Device on KBCS. His articles on media and communications issues have appeared in numerous northwest and national publications. Jonathan holds a masters degree in Theological Studies from Harvard University.

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