SEATTLE – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday proposed an ambitious package of legislation to tackle climate change, including eliminating fossil fuels like natural gas and coal from the state’s electricity supply by 2045.
Eyeing a 2020 White House bid and undeterred by repeated setbacks in getting major climate legislation passed in his state, the Democratic governor once again made reducing greenhouse gas emissions central to his agenda. He has said he wants to elevate climate change as a central issue in the next presidential election.
Last month, voters rejected by a 57-43 percent margin a second attempt on the ballot to put a price on carbon pollution. Initiative 1631 was closely watched nationwide as a test for whether states could pass a carbon tax or fee. The oil industry spent $30 million to defeat the measure in the state’s costliest initiative campaign fight.
“The people decided not to embrace plan A, but there’s about 400 other plans behind that ready to go. This plan B is ready to go and it can pass this year,” Inslee said at a news conference. Democrats expanded their majorities in the state House and Senate in November.
Inslee, who has been a critic of Trump administration environmental policies, said people want climate action and want their elected leaders to prevent further harm to forests, air and communities.
There was no carbon tax or fee included in the governor’s slate of proposed legislation that his office said would reduce carbon emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.
The centerpiece requires utilities to provide carbon-free electricity by 2045. Another major effort would implement a clean fuel standard – similar to a program in California – that requires fuel producers and importers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with transportation fuels.
In September, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation putting his state on the path toward all clean energy electricity sources by 2045. Hawaii also has similar legislation.
Inslee has included $268 million in his proposed two-year budget to pay for his clean energy initiatives. The efforts include boosting electric vehicle use, promoting more energy-efficient buildings and phasing out hydrofluorocarbon, potent greenhouse gases commonly used for refrigeration.
His proposals are likely to face stiff opposition from Republicans.
The governor has tried repeatedly since taking office in 2013 to persuade state lawmakers to pass carbon pricing programs and other measures. His carbon tax bill earlier this year failed to win approval even though Democrats enjoyed a narrow legislative majority.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Republican critic of the governor’s climate policies, said Inslee should listen to voters who have twice rejected “massive tax increases” at the ballot.
“The impacts on the economy could be dire,” said Ericksen, who worried about higher energy costs and impacts on businesses. “I don’t think he should try to use the massive tax increase as a springboard for his attempt to run for president.”
Joan Crooks, CEO of the Washington Environmental Council, and other supporters said they’re excited to work with lawmakers on real solutions to address the climate problems.
“Do we want to do something to change the dangerous course that we’re on? Or are we going to be the ones that let it happen?” she said.
A new federal report last month warned that natural disasters are worsening in the U.S. because of global warming. The chapter of the National Climate Assessment report focused on the Northwest warned that climate change is already affecting the region, which is projected to continue to warm, exacerbating loss of mountain snowpack and increasing the risk of wildfires and insect infestations.
Washington, which relies heavily on hydroelectric power, generates 75 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources. Inslee’s proposal would require utilities in the state to eliminate coal as an energy source by 2025 as it moves toward all clean-energy sources by 2045.
Republican leaders were so opposed to a clean fuel standard several years ago that they inserted a so-called “poison pill” into a major transportation package in 2015. That provision threatened to transfer money away from bike paths and transit if the state adopted a low carbon fuel standard before 2023.
Inslee’s proposal would remove that poison pill and require fuel providers to the total carbon intensity of fuels by 10 percent by 2028 and by 20 percent by 2030.
Supporters say the program will spur clean fuel technologies and reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, the largest sources of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. In California, that standard has added between three to six cents to the price of a gallon of gas, state officials said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.