Gov. Jay Inslee unveils ambitious legislative climate package
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed an ambitious package of legislation aimed at tackling climate change.
It doesn’t include a carbon tax or fee like the ones rejected twice by Washington voters in recent years. But it does include transitioning to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045, as well as several other proposals to clean up electricity, buildings and transportation.
Inslee says these policies will work together to get the state to emissions reduction targets for 2035 that legislators passed a decade ago.
“Now that’s important to say. This is a leap forward,” Inslee said as he unveiled the package to a room packed with environmental interest groups and clean-air advocates.
“This is not a tiny increment. This is a leap forward which will fulfill Washington state’s statutory obligation to reduce carbon emissions.”
Legislators passed the targets in 2008, but the state has fallen far behind and failed to meet them so far, even as more dire projections on climate change have led to more stringent goals internationally. The state Department of Ecology has recommended stronger targets, in line with the latest science of climate change.
Among the most ambitious goals in Inlsee’s package is a mandate for utilities to eliminate all fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, from the state’s electricity by 2045. They would be replaced by sources such as wind and solar energy. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed similar legislation in September. Hydropower and existing nuclear would count as clean under Washington’s policy.
The plan also includes setting a clean fuel standard – similar to a plan implemented in California in 2007 – that requires producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with their transportation fuels. It sets targets and allows them to buy credits on an exchange, encouraging innovation while reducing air pollution to set levels. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is working on a similar policy for the four-county area it covers.
Also on Inslee’s agenda are big improvements in energy efficiency for buildings and more incentives and infrastructure for electric cars, ferries and high-speed rail. And there’s a plan to phase out potent greenhouse gases called hydrofluorocarbons, which can be thousands of times more damaging to the climate than carbon and are common in air conditioning, some aerosols, heat pumps and refrigeration.
Inslee has included $268 million dollars in his proposed two-year budget to pay for the clean-energy efforts.
He says even more will need to be done to get Washington to meet more ambitious targets, such as those set out in the Paris climate agreement.
All of this is getting enthusiastic support from Democrats in the Legislature. State Sen. Reuven Carlyle is the new chair of the Energy, Climate and Technology Committee.
“We stand with a sense of alignment between the governor, the House of Representatives and the state Senate — in a way that is unprecedented — to take meaningful, bold and compelling action on climate change this year,” Carlyle said.
But Sen. Doug Ericksen, who is the ranking Republican on Carlyle's committee, said impacts on the economy could be dire and they should listen to residents who have twice rejected carbon pricing at the ballot.
A new federal report unveiled last month warned that natural disasters are worsening in the U.S. because of global warming. A chapter of the National Climate Assessment report focused on the Northwest warned that climate change is already affecting the region, which is projected to continue to warm, exacerbating loss of mountain snowpack and increasing the risk of wildfires and insect infestations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.