Inslee Announces Comprehensive Climate Policy for Washington’s 2021-2023 Budget

by Jack Russillo

On December 15, Governor Jay Inslee released a package of new climate change policies that will continue to push for cleaner fuel standards and limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

The announcement came during a press conference held by Inslee to announce his climate policy suggestions as part of his 2021-2023 budget proposal. The legislation will be voted on during the state legislature’s next regular session, which runs from January 11 to April 25.

“We have a long term pandemic, if you will, of our state being on fire because of the pollution that causes climate change,” said Inslee at the press conference. “And while we are dealing with this immediate pandemic, we have a longer one that we must attack if we are to preserve the health of our state and our children and our grandchildren. And that’s to fight against carbon pollution in our state. Today, I’m announcing a series of measures associated with our budget for our state to attack carbon pollution head-on.”

The climate policy proposals that Inslee announced will attempt to slow the pace of climate change by enforcing stricter greenhouse gas emissions, promoting more green jobs, and investing in cleaner energy infrastructure. The proposed legislation comes after other failed efforts by Inslee and other lawmakers to get the state to adopt more comprehensive climate-friendly policies. Even if these proposals achieve their potential, they will still leave the state just short of its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions goals.

The bill, called the Climate Commitment Act, will establish a cap on greenhouse gas emissions for the state’s largest-emitting industries. The legislation would authorize the Department of Ecology to administer a program that ensures industries comply through the sale, tracking, and accounting of greenhouse gas credits. 

The proceeds from selling those credits — as much as $1 billion — would then be directed into a state climate investment account, which will go toward investments that support clean transportation, natural climate resilience solutions, clean energy transition and assistance, and emissions reduction projects. Investments from the climate investment account will undergo an environmental justice analysis, helping to equitably distribute funds in communities around the state and eliminate environmental harm and economic and health disparities for vulnerable populations and overburdened communities. 

The governor’s budget includes $12.6 million to start implementing the Climate Commitment Act. 

“Environmental and racial justice is the way we achieve our climate goals and make them last and make them persistent, and allow our youth and our next generation to benefit and take ownership and stewardship of this new way and this economy,” said Senator Rebecca Saldaña, who represents Washington’s 37th Legislative District, during the press conference. “I am so thankful for the leadership of making sure that we embed and center environmental justice in statute, which is what this proposal includes.”

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for 45 percent of statewide emissions. Inslee’s proposals would advance the state’s transition to clean fuels and electrify public transportation infrastructure to help more people take advantage of options such as high-speed rail, electric vehicles, electric ferries, and buses.

The governor supports legislation to enact a clean fuel standard that would require fuel providers to clean up the state’s fuel supply by reducing the amount of carbon in fuels — a 10% reduction by 2028 and 20% reduction by 2035, and further reductions needed to meet the 2050 greenhouse gas limit. This will be done through incentive-based procedures that boost the affordability of cleaner fuel sources such as biomass and other biofuels. Inslee proposes $2.85 million for the Department of Ecology to enact a clean fuel standards program, which he claims will spur manufacturing investment and create jobs processing cleaner fuels around the state.

Washington State Ferries is the largest single consumer of diesel fuel in the state (over 18 million gallons of diesel every year), and it’s the largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions in public transportation, with a total of 220,000 metric tons each year. While reducing diesel and carbon emissions, electrifying these vessels will also save up to $14 million a year on ferry operating costs. The governor’s proposed budget would fund the conversion of a second Jumbo Mark II ferry that holds more than 200 cars to be electrically converted, the construction of a second new Olympic class hybrid electric ferry that holds 144 cars, and funding to build three charging stations that are critical to support these boats — a total investment of $318 million over four years. 

At the December press conference, Inslee also proposed $15 million in capital grants to help electrify transit systems, educate consumers about electric vehicles, and to increase the number of people who use electric vehicles. The budget also includes $3.25 million to establish a coordinating entity with representation from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia to conduct public engagement, integrate a high-speed rail corridor system with regional transportation plans, and develop equity-based goals for the project.

“Built into both of the policies are some of the aspirations about investing in frontline communities that have borne the brunt of our environmental policies of the past and starting to reduce pollution directly in those communities,” said Senator Liz Lovelett, who represents Washington’s 40th District, in a phone interview with the Emerald. “First, as a way of both directly dealing with past trauma and providing economic stimulation and jobs in communities that need them the most. So that equity lens is really integral to creating meaningful climate policy.”

Residential and commercial buildings are the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for one-fifth of statewide emissions, and the governor’s proposed budget would invest $141 million in programs and projects to support the transition to cleaner-fueled buildings. Inslee’s Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings policy and budget proposals would require any new buildings to have zero-carbon, electric space-heating, and water-heating systems by 2030, which helps the state stay on track to eliminate fossil fuels from existing buildings by 2050. 

The bill also creates a heat pump and electrification program to support clean electricity for space and water heating and authorizes public utilities to provide incentives for high-efficiency electric equipment. Major components of the policy include $55 million to weatherize and support energy efficiency investments for 7,000 low-income residences; $66 million to retrofit more than 200 public buildings; and $20 million to shift from fossil fuels to high-efficiency electric heat pumps and other electric equipment. 

Additionally, stemming from recommendations from the state’s Environmental Justice Task Force, Inslee’s proposals would create a permanent Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Panel that will recommend plans and funding proposals for programs that the climate investment account funds and analyze policies to determine how they affect overburdened communities and recommend environmental justice and environmental health goals. The Governor’s budget would help fund environmental justice and equity staff expertise in programs at several environmental and natural resource agencies, such as the Department of Ecology, the Department of Commerce, and the Department of Natural Resources, among others.

A part of Inslee’s budget would also be invested in the Clean Energy Fund, which will support the implementation of projects that are a part of the 2021 State Energy Strategy.

Investments will include $20 million for next-generation clean buildings and electrification projects that demonstrate grid-enabled, high-efficiency, all-electric buildings; $20 million for grants to non-profit lenders who provide revolving loans for clean-energy technologies that help loanees reduce operating costs and achieve sustainability goals; $20 million for innovative approaches to electrify transportation systems; $15 million for strategic research and development for new and emerging clean energy technologies; $15 million for grid modernization projects that advance community resilience, support integration of renewable energy sources and sustainable microgrids, and support implementation of the Clean Energy Transformation Act; $5 million to decarbonize the maritime sector through electrifying ferries, vessels, ports, and adding charging and refueling infrastructure; and $5 million for dairy digester bioenergy projects that produce renewable natural gas and value-added biofertilizers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve soil health and air and water quality.

“The people of Washington embrace science, facts, data, and they embrace a serious work plan for climate action,” said Senator Reuven Carlyle, who represents the state’s 36th Legislative District, in a phone interview with the Emerald after the press conference. “This package is going for the jugular in achieving serious emissions reductions. It is the step beyond the high-level aspirational goal, Paris Climate Accord level reductions, and achieving net-zero by 2050. It is the work plan to do the front line work of decarbonizing our transportation sector and creating clean energy jobs and embedding to the soul of this work, environmental justice, and equity principles.” 

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You can reach them here and can check out their work here and here.

Featured image: Governor Inslee at a press conference in Federal Way in July. (Photo by Jack Russillo)

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