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Environmental justice groups voice concerns as WA carbon market linkage bill advances

A picture of a refinery taken at dusk will hill in the background.
Rich Pedroncelli
In this Friday, Sept. 22, 2006, file photo, an oil refinery is seen at sunset in Rodeo, Calif.

Legislation is moving forward that would allow Washington to link its market for carbon pollution with those in Québec and California. The proposal is expected to drive down prices for carbon allowances that large emitters now need in Washington.

Supporters of the linkage bill are quick to note that it doesn’t require Washington to merge with other carbon markets, it just “keeps the door open.”

Kelly Hall is the Washington director of the nonprofit Climate Solutions, which has supported Gov. Jay Inslee through the development of policies such as this one. The linkage bill was requested by the state Department of Ecology.

Hall said it has the potential to lower costs for energy companies and consumers while also bringing other benefits. But actually moving forward with the connection would only happen after extensive negotiations.

“If done right, I think that linkage could actually improve the environmental integrity of a combined market,” Hall said.

Washington’s greenhouse gas reduction targets are more ambitious than California’s, extending all the way to 2050, with a goal of 95% reduction. Washington also has stronger provisions for environmental justice in its cap and invest law, the Climate Commitment Act.

Supporters, including the energy company BP, have said linked markets could encourage more states to join in and possibly raise the standards for all involved.

“Linking the Climate Commitment Act with carbon pricing programs in California and Québec creates a larger, more stable market, which creates the most economically efficient ways for companies to lower their carbon emissions,” said Tom Wolf, a senior government affairs manager for BP America, speaking at a public hearing on the bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

“It sends a positive signal to companies like BP, who are looking at long-term strategies and investments in Washington state,” he said.

But the environmental justice group Front and Centered, which represents communities that have been overburdened by climate pollution, said the linkage bill lacks important guarantees.

“We haven't really seen a compelling argument for how linkage would actually lead to the reduction of emissions,” said Nico Wedekind, the group’s policy counsel.

“And similarly, we are concerned with the effects of linkage on local communities across the state, particularly those who have already been facing the most direct effects of climate change and fossil fuel pollution,” he said.

The state’s Environmental Justice Council also recommended against linkage last October, before the legislative session, in a letter to the Department of Ecology.

Those groups are worried that they could lose some of the dedicated funding they fought hard to get in the current program. Last year alone, it brought in $1.8 billion.

To keep moving, the linkage bill has to be voted out of the House environment committee by next Thursday.

Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

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