Environmental groups had high hopes going into the special legislative session that ended Thursday in Olympia. But even with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the legislature, passage of critical climate policies did not happen.
The push to put a price on carbon pollution is now up to voters. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal narrowly failed. It would have made Washington the first state with a carbon tax, pushing the issue into the national spotlight.
Backers filed an initiative the day after its demise and say they will start collecting signatures early next month.
Hopes were high for another climate policy that some said Inslee wanted as a consolation prize – the Clean Energy Standard –which would have forced utilities to transition to 100 percent fossil-free electricity by 2045, including a complete phase out of coal by 2030. That also failed.
But Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for the 20 or so groups in the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition, says they still made headway, especially compared to the previous 6 years, in which the Senate was controlled by Republicans and climate issues were barely heard.
“This year, the floodgates opened. We were able to make progress. We were able to have rich debate and build a foundation for coming back and getting across the finish line next time,” Traisman said.
In terms of clear victories, the Oil Spill Prevention Act passed with bipartisan support. It closes a loophole that had exempted oil arriving in Washington by pipeline from state taxes. New revenue from that will be used to pay for inspectors and other protective measures that have been lacking.
A bill on Toxic-Free Food Packaging also passed. Starting in 2020, Washington becomes the first state in the nation to phase out a class of cancer-causing non-stick chemicals called PFAS that are found in things like fast-food sandwich wrappers and microwave popcorn bags.