Washington’s climate action a source for optimism this Earth Day


Washington’s accomplishments are a template for how to lead as Earth Day celebrations globally draw attention to the need for climate investments

Washington Governor Jay Inslee delivers remarks at a podium on the lawn of the state Capitol Campus with the Capitol building in the background.
The governor delivers remarks at an early Arbor Day celebration on the state Capitol Campus in Olympia on April 12.

Earth Day is a global call for leaders to forge ahead with climate action. Never has that call been louder, with the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report projecting dire consequences for the planet if significant emissions reductions efforts aren’t taken in the next 10 years.

“We don’t have time to agonize or despair,” Gov. Jay Inslee said when the IPCC report was released in March. “We must focus on mobilizing every part of our economy in the net-zero transition. State-level leadership in the United States is critical to the implementation of international and national policies.”

This is what makes Earth Day so important today. It highlights the policies and investments that will slash greenhouse gas emissions, produce renewable energy, clean the air in our most polluted communities, protect forests and wildlife, and stem the tide of climate change.

Washington state is a national and global leader in all these facets.

Earth Day has been rooted in Washington state since its founding in 1970, with Washingtonian Denis Hayes serving as its first national coordinator. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is a co-founder of the bipartisan state-led U.S. Climate Alliance, the international Ocean Acidification Alliance, and other groups led by states, provinces and cities taking action on climate even when national governments are slow to act.

Young Washingtonians know that climate change is a crisis, and they’re speaking up and taking action on Earth Day. According to Rosalie, a kindergartener, taking care of the planet is important “because of the animals — so they can stay alive, and everybody else.”

Students from all over Washington sent their videos about climate change to the governor’s office last month, and they all had the same message: The planet is important. Let’s do what we can to protect it.

Transformative policies and investments

Concern for our environment and our role in protecting it has long been part of Washingtonians’ identity, but our biggest policy wins have only come in recent years. Policies like the Climate Commitment Act, the Clean Energy Transformation Act, new clean buildings standards, clean fuel standards and environmental justice laws like the HEAL Act are all working together to address climate change and pollution.

The Climate Commitment Act is the state’s signature climate policy, a market-based cap-and-invest program hailed nationally as the new gold standard for state environmental policies. The law requires our state’s biggest polluters to gradually reduce their carbon output and to pay for allowances if they want to exceed emissions thresholds. The law’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state 95% by 2050.

The first auction under the new law was held in February and raised $300 million. The act is expected to raise $1.7 billion over the next two years alone. Those revenues will be put toward other climate-related policies like decarbonizing transportation and buildings; developing clean energy projects; advancing environmental justice for overburdened communities; increasing community resilience to climate disasters; and supporting jobs in the new clean energy workforce.

The cap and invest law is complimented by the state Clean Fuel Standard, which requires fuel suppliers to gradually reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels to 20% below 2017 levels by 2034.

Governor Jay Inslee signs legislation at a table outdoors surrounded by state legislators. Behind them is a state ferry coming into port.
The governor is joined by lawmakers to sign the 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation package, which invests millions of Climate Commitment Act funds to decarbonizing state transportation infrastructure.

Buildings are Washington’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but new state building standards adopted in the last year will help slash emissions by requiring energy-efficient heat pumps for space and water heating in all new residential buildings after July 1. The state aims to cut energy consumption in new buildings by 70% compared to 2006 levels by 2031. The policy will also help the state reach the goals of the Clean Energy Transformation Act, which commits the state to all renewable energy sources by 2045.

Washington has some of the nation’s strongest environmental justice laws. The Climate Commitment Act requires Ecology address health, social and environmental inequities stemming from harmful air pollution. The law ensures the state will help Washington residents see their share of the benefits from emissions reductions and climate investments. Ten percent of the revenues from the law will go to projects supported by the state’s Tribes.

As more consumers continue to adopt zero emission vehicles, Washington also recently joined California to halt the sale of all new gas-powered light duty vehicles by 2035. Planning for this transition is already well under way as officials study the technology and infrastructure needs for powering these vehicles wherever they roam.

Federal leaders finally take action

After years of failing to act on climate and renewable energy, Congress in August passed historic investments in these areas via the Inflation Reduction Act.

The law includes the most consequential suite of national climate actions to date. It puts America on track to reduce emissions by 40% by 2030, and paves the way for new clean energy infrastructure, new clean energy jobs, and energy security and independence. The investments will help “supercharge” state efforts to combat climate change. The legislation will significantly bolster Washington’s efforts to help more people purchase electric vehicles, make energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes and appliances, and more.

“Clean energy and transportation. Well-paying jobs. Investments in cleaner air and efficient buildings for communities,” Inslee said at the time. “Washington and other states have led the way. This will now bring billions in investments and jobs to Washington and our whole country. Finally the federal government is joining in taking action on climate.”

The work continues

Governor Jay Inslee stands in front of an audience of 60 Perry Technical Institute students studying to become electrical workers. The students asked the governor questions about the burgeoning renewable energy economy.

On Monday, the governor visited Perry Technical Institute in Yakima to announce his approval of two new solar farms in eastern Yakima County. The projects combined will generate enough power to fuel 30,000 homes and will employ about 450 local workers in their construction. The governor made the announcement to an audience of electrical students who could one day work on such projects.

“In a rapidly changing world, communities in central and eastern Washington have a leg up on the competition for jobs and investment because of these renewable natural resources that already make like here so enjoyable,” Inslee said.

In recent years the state has also streamlined the process for siting clean energy projects, including an improved Tribal consultation process and legislation this year (HB 1216) that creates a coordinated permitting process for state agencies to follow. Legislators this year also acted on a bill (HB 1181) to improve the state’s response to climate change by updating the Growth Management Act with climate change and resiliency goals for local governments, as well as legislation to plan for the renewable energy transition and increased capacity in our state’s electrical grid (SB 5165).

Lawmakers this session also passed the governor’s proposed Climate Corps bill (HB 1176), which creates opportunities for climate-related service and workforce programs in communities statewide. The bill also provides for a state evaluation of our anticipated workforce needs in clean energy technology and recommendations for how to grow that workforce.

These policies combined with strong climate leadership in the governor’s office and Legislature are reducing emissions, cleaning up pollution, and contributing to the next stage of Washington’s robust economic growth.

“Even though it can feel like there is alarming news every day about the existential threat of climate change, this Earth Day I want people to take heart in the fact that we are advancing work at the state and national level that some thought impossible just a few years ago,” Inslee said. “We are breaching the obstacles that climate deniers have thrown in the way of progress, and more are joining us in this effort every day. Fighting climate change begins with the belief that it can be defeated, and on this Earth Day I am as optimistic as ever.”



Governor Jay Inslee
Washington State Governor's Office

Governor of Washington state. Writing about innovation, jobs, education, clean energy & my grandkids. Building a WA that works for everyone.