2023: A New Focus for Climate Action in Washington

2023 marks a significant shift in climate policy, from a focus on passing major climate policies to now implementing these transformative laws. Washington has among the strongest policy frameworks to transition away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy, thanks to the Legislature’s passage of the Clean Energy Transformation Act, Clean Fuels Standard, and Climate Commitment Act (CCA), which will be bolstered by the Federal Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act. As the Legislature invests in clean energy generated by the CCA, it is critical to spend the dollars wisely to transition to a carbon-free future while reducing the cost burden on vulnerable communities.

[The 2023 Legislative session is over! Here's our wrapup on how Legislators succeeded in taking climate action—amd what work remains to be done]

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1. Invest in Climate Action

Washington’s transformative Climate Commitment Act goes into effect on January 1st, 2023 and its cap-and-invest program is expected to bring in billions of dollars for climate and clean energy. As the Legislature invests in climate action using new funds coming from the CCA, it is critical to spend dollars wisely and ensure an equitable transition to a carbon-free future.

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2. Zero-Emissions Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles

While greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles have remained steady, climate pollution from medium- and heavy-duty (MHD) vehicles - such as trucks, vans, and buses - has more than doubled since 1990. Diesel exhaust is responsible for 70% of the cancer risk from air pollution in Washington, so investments in this sector will also reduce toxic air pollution, which is largely concentrated in overburdened communities. Transitioning to zero-emissions MHD vehicles swiftly to meet our emissions targets requires a multi-pronged approach to reduce upfront costs and ensure adequate infrastructure. The Legislature should dedicate: $130 million towards a point-of-sale vehicle incentive program to mitigate upfront costs and incentivize sale of over 1,000 zero-emissions vehicles per year. $80 million in incentives for MHD charging infrastructure (e.g., at fleet depots) to facilitate large-scale conversion. $40 million in innovative demonstration projects to develop the market for earlier-stage applications, support zero-emissions vehicle deployment in sectors that require more assistance, and showcase Washington’s leadership.

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3. Clean Homes and Buildings

Washington’s building emissions are growing at a faster rate than any other source and have major implications for the health of those who work and live within them. To ensure equitable access to heat pumps and other electric appliances, the Legislature should provide incentives for low- and middle-income (LMI) households, schools in overburdened communities, and small businesses. To align with the State Energy Strategy, the electrification incentive program should be funded at $200 million for the 2023-2024 biennium and increase over time to meet our 2030 decarbonization goal. More specifically: $130 million to mitigate upfront costs of new electric appliance purchases and installation, with a tiered incentive structure to prioritize low-income households and ensure the most overburdened communities can benefit from this program. $70 million to fund a commercial rebate program, targeting schools in overburdened communities, minority-owned businesses, and buildings in low-income areas.

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4. Clean Energy Siting

Meeting our critical 95% greenhouse gas reduction target requires rapid development of clean energy. However, expansion of clean energy comes with a broad set of challenges: from the impact on wildlife, environment, and tribal resources of land-intensive energy sources like solar, to the potential for project delays during the permitting processes and environmental reviews. The Legislature should increase the state’s capacity to examine a growing number of clean energy project proposals, including additional funding and staffing for state agencies, the use of a programmatic environmental review across regions and technologies in the state, and a streamlined permitting application. These proposals should be paired with the creation of clean energy zones that identify least-conflict lands to minimize impact on the environment, communities, and tribal land while providing additional certainty to developers.

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5. Transportation Accessibility and Land Use Planning

Creating a clean and equitable transportation system requires a multifaceted approach that extends beyond electrification to reducing reliance on passenger vehicles and expanding transportation options. To do so, we need adequate housing near jobs, services, and transit. The Legislature should facilitate transit oriented development, end exclusionary zoning, and amend the Growth Management Act such that all jurisdictions must plan for climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington State Government

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