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Inslee unveils climate proposals ahead of full budget plan

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference on Nov. 30, 2020.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a news conference on Nov. 30, 2020.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced several climate related proposals for the next legislative session, including fully reinstating a plan to cap carbon pollution in the state.

"We can fight climate change and we can create good-paying jobs by transitioning to a cleaner energy economy," Inslee said at a news conference announcing his plan. "We know these actions are required now. We cannot kick this can down the road anymore."

In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state's Clean Air Rule cannot apply to companies that sell or distribute petroleum or natural gas because they don't make their own emissions — other people burn the fuel they provide.

The state Department of Ecology only has the authority to regulate "actual emitters," like refineries, power plants, factories and other big polluters. But about three-quarters of the emissions that would have been covered by the rule came indirectly from petroleum and natural gas importers and sellers.

Under his plan, announced as part of a weeklong budget rollout, Inslee would include $12.6 million to implement a bill called the "Climate Commitment Act." In addition to the cap on greenhouse gas emissions, the bill would authorize Ecology to implement a program for industries to comply through the sale, tracking and accounting of greenhouse gas credits. Proceeds from those will go toward funding projects focused on transportation and clean energy.


Inslee is also seeking a measure that would require fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels.

"And the way this works is by creating a market for cleaner fuels like biofuels, renewable diesel and clean electricity for transportation,” Inslee said. “This policy will reduce emissions by four million metric tons when fully implemented by 2035."

That effort, which has previously stalled in the Legislature, would create a clean fuels program similar to ones in British Columbia, California and Oregon. It would require fuel producers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their products by 10 percent by 2028 and 20 percent by 2035. 

The plan also expands the effort to transition the state's 21-vessel ferry system from diesel to electric. Last year, one vessel was converted to electric. A second conversion has already been authorized, and the funding is also in place for construction of a new 144-car vessel. Inslee's plan for the next two-year budget would fund that second conversion, as well as construction of a second new electric ferry and funding to build three charging stations. The cost over the four years would be $318 million, with about $190 being spent in the next two-year budget cycle.

Inslee is also counting on the so-called multiplier effect, with family-wage jobs pumping more money into the economy and creating more jobs, because of the spending.

“Each new ferry would create 560 family-wage jobs directly and another 890 indirectly,” Inslee said. “This is just one of the many, many projects that we intend to build in our state to create jobs and a clean energy economy.”

Inslee's climate proposal also looks to do the following:

  • Allocate $3.25 million to coordinate with Oregon and British Columbia on an ultra-high-speed rail corridor.
  • Require new buildings to be zero-carbon by 2030, with a goal to eliminate fossil fuels from existing buildings by 2050. He also allocates $55 million to weatherize and support energy efficiency investments for 7,000 low-income homes; $66 million to retrofit more than 200 public buildings; and $20 million to shift from fossil fuels like gas to high-efficiency electric heat pumps and other electric equipment.
  • Spend $100 million on clean energy projects, including grid modernization, grants to nonprofit lenders who provide loans for clean-energy upgrades and research and development for new clean energy technology.
  • A focus on communities most impacted by climate change, including the creation of a permanent environmental justice and equity advisory panel.


Inslee is getting high marks in some circles for crafting the plan with an eye toward environmental justice in mind - making sure that harm done to specific groups in the past is rectified and that jobs lost in fossil-fuel dependent industries are balanced by jobs created in clean energy fields.

Professor Nives Dolshak, director of the school of marine and environmental affairs at the University of Washington, has been watchdogging the governor’s climate initiativesand says the job creation and environmental justice in the latest plan are great.

But she says a lot of detail is still missing -- and especially data.

“It’s crucial that anyone who has climate targets, that they have very specific goals, that those goals are expressed in measurable objectives and that we have data to see how we are making progress over those objectives,” Dolshak said.

Inslee, who was elected to a third term last month, is releasing his state budget this week in several stages throughout the week. The Democratic-controlled House and Senate will each present their own budget proposals during the 105-day legislative session that begins Jan. 11.

After the Legislature failed to adopt a cap-and-trade program, Inslee directed Ecology in 2015 to use authority under the 1967 Clean Air Act to limit carbon emissions from Washington's largest sources. He called climate change a threat to the state and said the new regulations would help Washington meet its requirements to reduce carbon emissions.

Inslee has long touted environmental issues and made climate change the core issue of his fleeting presidential campaign last year.

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