Climate-conscious Washington lawmakers have big shoes to fill in this year’s legislative session, after last year produced the most aggressive set of climate laws the state has ever seen.
The stakes are high as the Legislature prepares to meet on Monday, Jan. 10 to kick off a 60-day session: millions of dollars in damage.
“The climate crisis is not an abstraction,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in an online preview of the legislative session hosted by the Associated Press on Thursday, January 6. “It’s something that I and every governor of the United States has to deal with almost every week.”
A host of climate and environmental bills are already on the agenda, addressing issues such as clean energy, restoration of salmon habitat and subsidies for electric vehicles.
Here are some of the most high-profile questions lawmakers will debate over the next two months.
Inslee is getting big
The governor made headlines in December when he unveiled a $ 626 million climate plan focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These global warming emissions are created when humans burn fossil fuels, such as natural gas, coal or gasoline.
Washington is legally bound to reduce its emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by mid-century. The state is not on track to meet its 2030 target, according to the state’s Ecology Department.
“We have to face this peril at its source, which is carbon pollution,” Inslee told the Associated Press event on Thursday.
The governor’s plan has four overarching goals: reducing emissions from the building sector, investing more in clean transportation, encouraging clean energy projects in the state, and successfully implementing the Climate Commitment Act.
The Climate Commitment Act was one of the landmark climate laws passed last year and requires the development of a statewide cap-and-trade program: the state will set a limit of emissions, or “cap”, for large polluters, which will decrease over time. Polluters must purchase permits from the state if their emissions exceed the cap.
If the 2022 governor’s proposals are successful, Washingtonians would see thousands of dollars back when they buy electric vehicles, the requirements that new construction run on electricity rather than natural gas, and the funding of projects in the city. clean energy.
But Inslee’s plans face looming opposition in the legislature: Republicans have slammed him, with State Representative Mary Dye the Republican ranked on the Environment and Energy committee. the House, saying in a statement last month that it does not address the immediate impacts of extreme weather events.
The governor’s proposals also drew criticism from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank. The centre’s environmental director, Todd Myers, said many of the measures are costly and ineffective, given that last year’s Climate Commitment Act already requires the state’s biggest polluters to create and follow. a comprehensive emissions reduction plan.
“I just think we spend a lot of time duplicating what we’ve been doing over and over again,” Myers said.
He wants the state to invest more money in projects that capture carbon emissions from the atmosphere, rather than funding solar power and subsidizing electric vehicles to many people who he says would buy one. electric vehicle despite everything.
Save the salmon
Inslee also proposed $ 187 million for salmon recovery and introduced the Lorraine Loomis Act, which aims to protect riparian habitats that can reduce the temperature of rivers and streams. It would be the state’s first law requiring landowners to protect riparian habitats on their land, according to the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
The commission, which supports 20 treaty tribes in western Washington, has spoken out in favor of the Lorraine Loomis law, but has expressed concern that it will be watered down by the legislature.
The bill also garnered support from the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition, which represents more than 20 environmental organizations.
But Myers of the Washington Policy Center is concerned that the Lorraine Loomis Act may not result in a significant reduction in water temperatures and sow resentment among landowners.
“This policy is very bad for a lot of farmers, and it will create a lot of conflict. It’s already been done, ”said Myers, who is also a member of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. “I think that’s the wrong approach. It is important to find ways to reduce the temperature of the waterways. I think it’s way too radical and far too combative.
A whale of a plane
House Republicans have their own climate plan in place: the Outdoor Recreation and Climate Adaptation, or ORCA, Plan.
The ORCA plan would use the $ 4 billion raised by the state’s 10-year cap-and-trade program to build new parks, eliminating the annual $ 30 Discover Pass and reducing other leisure costs .
The plan also directs funds towards “sound” forest management, efforts to prevent future flood damage, reducing pollution in Puget Sound and ensuring a “sustainable” water supply for the farming community of the state.
“Republicans believe state policy should now focus on the issue of climate adaptation – how to protect Washington from the climate impacts we can expect from global carbon emissions,” it reads. an outline of the ORCA plan drawn up by Rep. Dye.
The ORCA Plan does not include any measures to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions created by the combustion of fossil fuels.
The buildings are back
As a growing number of Washington municipalities take action to reduce the use of natural gas in buildings, several lawmakers are seeking to decarbonize the building industry statewide.
Buildings are the fastest growing source of emissions in Washington, according to the state Department of Commerce.
Representative Alex Ramel, whose district includes parts of Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties, is at the forefront of these efforts. Last year, he introduced the Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act, a comprehensive bill that would have allowed state buildings to run on clean energy. He died in commission.
This year, Ramel and his colleagues in the Legislature have divided the decarbonization efforts into four bills, he said.
HB 1766 would change the way gas companies are regulated to achieve emission reductions, and HB 1767 would allow electric utilities to offer customers incentives to switch from fossil fuels to electrical equipment.
HB 1770 would require all new construction to be ‘net zero ready’ by 2035, meaning buildings would not depend directly on natural gas for space and water heating. HB 1774 would expand building energy performance standards in existing buildings.
Ramel is cautiously optimistic that these bills can be passed in 2022, although he recognizes that the short legislative session presents an additional hurdle. (Sessions in odd-numbered years are 105 days long.)
“We’ve spent a ton of time reviewing all the things that people have expressed concern about over the past year,” Ramel said. “I think we’ve addressed a lot of those concerns. “
Local land use
The growth management law may seem obscure to ordinary people, but reforming it is a priority for some environmental groups and lawmakers in Washington.
The law, first passed three decades ago, requires many Washington counties and their cities to create plans to manage long-term population growth. Now there is pressure to adopt HB 1099, which was sponsored last year by Representative Davina Duerr and would require local governments to factor climate change into their plans.
There is also an effort to close an “urban sprawl loophole” in the growth management law: this loophole allows development to continue in rural areas even when it may not be. in accordance with the law.
Other bills to watch out for
These are only some of the environmental and climate measures proposed by Washington leaders this session.
There are also bills to regulate carpool emissions, hold packaging companies accountable for the waste they create, encourage the production of green electrolytic hydrogen, help school districts switch to electric buses, and empower people. get up to $ 200 when they replace lawn equipment fueled by fossil fuels. .
It is too early to say which proposals will be accepted, but Majority Leader Senator Andy Billig made clear his opinion at the Associated Press event on Thursday: “We will be judged in the future on the basis of this. that we are doing on the climate.