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Advocates say election outcome means more ‘climate champions’ headed to Olympia

Children hold signs as they stand on stage with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who signed bills addressing climate change, Tuesday, May 7, 2019,
Elaine Thompson
Associated Press
Children hold signs as they stand on stage with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who signed bills addressing climate change, Tuesday, May 7, 2019,

Climate action advocates say they’re hopeful they’ll see more success in Olympia, when lawmakers return to session. 

A recent webinar with several environmental groups provided an overview of the election outcome, and its implications for climate policies.

In the Legislature, there was no net gain — no change for the partisan split of either the House or the Senate,said Vlad Gutman-Britten, the Washington Director of Climate Solutions.

That split has meant gridlock on some climate policies in the past, like the clean fuel standard. Washington remains the only West Coast state without this kind of system to encourage more investments in low-carbon transportation. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has been considering a regional policy.

But Gutman-Britten says this election provided a net gain of what he calls "climate champions" headed to Olympia. These are lawmakers they feel they can count on to join them in pushing the state for reforms to advance their agenda. He counted at least two of them, including Sen.-elect T’wina Nobles, representing South Tacoma and Pierce County.

"Sen.-elect Nobles has defeated Steve O'Ban, who has never seen a transit project that he doesn't want to kill and (is) a committed opponent of climate action,” Gutman-Britten said. “So this improvement is going to matter for transit. It's going to matter for the clean fuel standard, which Sen. Nobles is in favor of. And for any number of core climate policies that will move Washington into a more sustainable direction."  

The other newly elected climate champion they highlighted is Blaine Democrat Alicia Rule, in Northwest Washington’s 42nd District, which stretches from north of Bellingham to the Canadian border. She defeated Republican Luanne Van Werven. 

Still undecided is a Senate race between two Democrats  in the 5th Legislative District that includes Issaquah that is still too close to call. Climate advocates are backing Ingrid Anderson, a nurse who is challenging incumbent Mark Mullet. As of Tuesday afternoon, Anderson was trailing Mullet by 86 votes.

Among the new policies they’re pursuing is new road user fees to fund a more clean and just transportation system. 

Kelcy Mesher, advocacy director with the Transportation Choices Coalition, said they want more sustainable and equitable transportation funding. They’d like to replace dependence on sales tax revenue with road user charges.  

“That would be charging people based on how many miles you drive," Mesher said. "Could you charge more for vehicles that pollute more? Could you charge more for driving in environmental justice areas? These are questions that we want to raise, as these policies are developed.” 

She says other ideas for new revenue include a tax on luxury transportation — such as high-end vehicles, yachts and private jets — and anair-quality surcharge on new vehicles, based on their greenhouse gas emissions. She added that a carbon fee on transportation fuels is still on the table. 

Also speaking during the webinar was Guillermo Rogel Jr., representing the climate justice group Front and Centered. He said a big priority will be finally passing the Washington HEAL Act, to ensure that all policies take into account the data revealed in a recent environmental health disparities map.

“That really is the awful truth for a lot of communities, is they live in the areas that have the highest rates of pollution, which leads to higher health complications,” he said.

The goal is to make Washinton a state where your ZIP code is not a contributing factor in how healthy you are or how long you can expect to live.  

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to