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Climate activists disappointed by session outcome: new goals set, but action lags behind

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
People demonstrating their support for clean-energy legislation hold signs in the capitol rotunda, Thursday, April 11, 2019, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

The end of this year’s legislative session has been overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak. The session started with high hopes for new state policies to reduce climate warming greenhouse gas pollution, stoked by youth climate strikes as well as cities and the Puyallup Tribe declaring climate emergencies.

At the start of the session, one key goal was to update the state’s statutory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. They were last set in 2008. Lawmakers did commit to setting new limits and getting to net-zero carbon by 2050. But they failed to pass the bill that activists say would have made the most progress in actually cutting carbon, the so-called clean fuel standard.

“I mean it’s great that we got our climate pollution limits in place. But the 44 percent of climate emissions that come from the transportation sector are not being addressed,” said Adam Maxwell, government relations director for Audubon Washington. “We have a really good policy that’s tested in other states, that we know reduces emissions, that we know invests in vehicle electrification. It cleans our air, it reduces the impact on our climate and helps us find a way toward a clean energy transition.”  

The bill once again passed the House, but did not get through the Senate, despite a strongly-worded letter from 32 House Democrats and 13 in the Senate, saying they saw its passage as a precondition to the passage of a transportation package. A regional version is in the works, four the four-county area covered by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Other legislation that passed that chips away at carbon pollution includes one for "sustainable farms and fields" and one for zero emissions vehicles. 

Vlad Gutman Britten with the Olympia think tank Climate Solutions still says the session was a failure.

“Passing goals, passing intentions and at the same time, not doing anything to make those real, to get us closer to those goals is insufficient. It’s not good enough,” he said, adding that it’s like setting a New Year’s resolution to run every day and then hardly even getting out the door.

He says looking back, the state took 11 years to pass any meaningful climate action laws after setting the 2008 targets. Last year’s 100 percent clean electricity bill finally moved the state forward.

He also noted that, at the same time Washington lawmakers were lagging behind, Oregon’s governor took emergency action on climate. But Gov. Jay Inslee’s authority to direct ecology to regulate big polluters was shot down in court early in the session, with the judge calling on legislators to take action instead. It didn’t happen.

“Washington is alone on the West Coast. We’re the shameful donut hole without this policy. And it's time that we move forward,” Gutman Britten said.

Backers say a clean fuels standard would be the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, our biggest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

Opposition comes from people concerned about the prospect a clean fuel standard would cause gasoline prices to go up. Some, such as farm workers, are concerned it could damage their equipment. Supporters say these claims are not grounded and that experience in other states on the West Coast provide ample data to show that the policy is effective.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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