Inslee announces bold climate package for 2021–2023 biennium

Inslee’s legislative and budget proposals would create a comprehensive climate program to ensure the state meets its climate goals

Gov. Jay Inslee today outlined his climate policy package for the 2021–2023 biennium.

“Climate change is a health issue, an economic issue and an equity issue. We must address these very real threats to our state, and we cannot wait,” Inslee said at a press conference Tuesday. “The time to act is now. These proposals would reduce nearly 30 million metric tons of emissions by 2030 — a 35% reduction from current projections. And these standards and investments — with justice at their core — will grow clean energy jobs in Washington.”

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Inslee’s legislative and budget proposals would create a comprehensive climate program to ensure the state meets its climate goals:

  • Cap statewide greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean energy, transportation and climate resilience programs, and fund part of the Working Families Tax Credit.
  • Establish a clean fuel standard and reduce transportation emissions through electrification.
  • Require new buildings to be carbon free by 2030 and eliminate fossil fuels from existing buildings by 2050.
  • Require an environmental justice assessment for all climate related investments and create an Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Panel to analyze how climate investments impact communities most affected by climate change.
  • Invest $428 million in clean transportation, clean buildings and clean energy projects.
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The governor is proposing legislation that will meet the new statewide greenhouse gas limits enacted in the 2020 session, improving climate resilience and reducing the impacts of climate change on communities highly impacted by environmental pollution.

The Climate Commitment Act will cap greenhouse emissions for the largest emitting industries and direct the proceeds from the sale of greenhouse gas emission allowances to a new climate investment account. Funds from the account would go towards clean transportation, natural climate resilience solutions, clean energy transition and assistance, and emissions reduction projects.

Investments from this account would also undergo an environmental justice analysis, ensuring funds are directed to the communities most impacted by climate change. This comprehensive program and it’s investments in the hardest hit communities will help improve climate resilience across the board and protect our environment, infrastructure and resources for future generations.

The governor’s budget provides $12.6 million to begin implementation of the Climate Commitment Act, including establishing a comprehensive climate program to coordinate the state’s resilience actions and to hold the state accountable to achieving the greenhouse gas limits.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who will sponsor the legislation, said this bold legislation is a much-needed step toward environmental justice and a clean energy economy.

“As our state begins to break out of the grip of the pandemic, I believe courageous climate action that invests in clean energy jobs, embeds equity at every level and reduces emissions to Paris Accord levels is central to rebuilding our quality of life,” Carlyle said. “I’m proud to join with Governor Inslee and Rep. Fitzgibbon to be a light among the states to strengthen and grow the economy while reducing emissions. We can show the path forward.”

Establish a clean fuel standard and reduce transportation emissions

Inslee’s proposal for a clean fuel standard would mean Washington would join the rest of the West Coast in adopting this important tool to reduce vehicle emissions. Oregon and California have demonstrated that a clean fuel standard can provide great benefit in emissions reductions, while having a negligible impact on fuel pricing.

The transportation sector is responsible for nearly 45% of all Washington’s emissions. By reducing the amount of carbon in our fuels, emissions will be reduced by 4 million metric tons a year when the program reaches full implementation in 2035.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, chair of the House Environment and Energy Committee, said that reducing transportation emissions is vital in Washington’s effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We must address the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions in our state, the transportation sector, in order to meaningfully address the climate crisis,” Fitzgibbon said. “With the governor’s support, I will again introduce a bill to implement a clean fuels program to improve local air quality, promote rural jobs in agriculture, timber, and manufacturing, and bring Washington into alignment with our West Coast neighbors who already have strong programs to combat pollution from transportation fuels.”

Renewable Energy Group (REG), which produces biofuel in Grays Harbor, also supports the legislation.

“A program like this would accelerate the use of clean fuels, resulting in cleaner air, more jobs and local economic development,” said Kent Hartwig, director of corporate affairs for REG. “Washington has the opportunity to join in on the leadership along the West Coast in moving to cleaner fuel solutions today.”

The governor’s budget includes $2.85 million for the Department of Ecology to implement the program.

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Also included in the proposed budget is $230 million to invest in electrifying buses, ferries and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Washington State Ferries is the largest consumer of diesel fuel in the state, using over 18 million gallons a year. The governor’s climate proposal includes funding to:

  • Convert a second electric ferry.
  • Construct a new, hybrid, Olympic class ferry.
  • Build three charging stations to support the new electric boats.

This builds on funding from 2019 to complete the electric conversion of a Jumbo Mark II vessel. Electrifying these vessels will save Washingtonians up to $14 million a year on ferry operating costs and will virtually eliminate noise and vibration that harm orcas.

The budget also includes funding to increase electric vehicle use in Washington, allocating $1.5 million to promote their use with a focus on access for low income communities.

Residential and commercial buildings account for one-fifth of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the fastest-growing sector in terms of emissions. In order to meet the greenhouse gas limits established by the legislature in 2020, the newest buildings must be constructed using high-efficiency electric appliances and without fossil fuel space and water heating. Existing buildings must also be retrofitted to reduce emissions and increase efficiency.

The governor also announced legislation that would eliminate fossil fuels from new residential and commercial construction by 2030 and would put Washington on a pathway to eliminating the use of fossil fuels from existing buildings by 2050.

The governor is proposing $141 million in the capital budget to help meet these benchmarks.

This proposal would build clean jobs in Washington. Nearly 90,000 people worked in clean energy jobs in 2019, with the fastest growth in the building and construction industries. This legislation would accelerate that growth and create family wage jobs across Washington.

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Climate change poses an existential threat to all communities, but the impacts fall disproportionately on those most marginalized.

The governor’s climate package centers environmental justice by reducing emissions in the most impacted communities, requiring that the benefits of the clean energy transition be distributed equitably and ensuring that overburdened communities have a formal role in climate governance.

The governor’s proposal would create a permanent Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Panel, which would recommend plans and proposals for funds in the climate investment account. Any investments from the newly created climate investment account would also need to undergo an environmental justice analysis to ensure that they are directed towards eliminating environmental harm and economic and health disparities for vulnerable populations.

The proposal would also implement the Environmental Justice Task Force recommendations, incorporating environmental justice into government structures, systems and policies. The execution of the recommendations would include funding for dedicated environmental justice staff at state agencies, including the Department of Ecology, Department of Commerce, Puget Sound Partnership and the Department of Natural Resources.

Senator Rebecca Saldaña, who joined the governor for the announcement, emphasized that climate goals and racial justice are closely tied.

“Because we can only achieve our climate goals by leading with environmental and racial justice, I am encouraged to see codifying environmental justice and fully funding the Office of Equity are prioritized in the governor’s budget rollout,” Saldaña said. “I thank him for his leadership and look forward to forming part of the team that will lead with environmental justice to advance a transportation sector clean fuels policy, the HEAL Act, a comprehensive carbon cap and strategic investments in economic recovery focused on a just transition and green infrastructure.”

In 2019, the Legislature passed landmark clean energy legislation. To build on that success, the governor is proposing $100 million for projects to develop, demonstrate and deploy clean energy technologies.

The proposed investments include:

  • $15 million to grid modernization projects to increase community energy resilience, support the use of renewable energy sources, deploy distributed energy sources and implement the Clean Energy Transformation Act.
  • $15 million for strategic research and development for clean energy technologies to meet the state’s climate goals and offer opportunities for economic and job growth.
  • $20 million for innovative approaches to electrify the transportation system.
  • $20 million for next generation clean buildings and electrification projects.
  • $20 million for grants to non-profits who provide revolving loans to help small businesses, nonprofit organizations, multifamily building owners and homeowners to reduce operating costs.
  • $5 million to decarbonize the maritime sector through electrifying ferries, vessels and ports; and adding charging and refueling infrastructure.
  • $5 million to dairy digester bioenergy projects that produce renewable natural gas and biofertilizers, with a focus on rural communities.

Alyssa Macy, CEO of Washington Environmental Council/Washington Conservation voters supports the proposal and stressed the importance of acting quickly.

“Future generations will look back at the choices we made today and know that we took care to solve the problems of our time,” Macy said. “For that to become reality, the legislature must act urgently to turn Governor Inslee’s science-based and equitable approach into reality. The time is now.”

Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, voiced his support for the proposal.

“The challenge before us is to address both the climate crisis and growing income inequality in a way that leaves no workers or communities behind,” Brown said. “Washington’s union movement is committed to addressing climate change while also promoting family-wage job opportunities, and we appreciate Governor Inslee’s efforts to make progress on both.”

Together, these policies would constitute the largest step Washington has taken to combat climate change in state history.

“By acting on these climate policies and investments, we will put our state on a path consistent with science and with equity,” Inslee said. “Our deeds will rise to what the climate crisis now demands — bold, transformative action that builds a prosperous future for all.”

Read the full policy brief here.

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