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With two days left in session, Washington House passes ‘cap and trade’

UPDATED: Fri., April 23, 2021

The Washington Capitol building is seen in March 2020 in Olympia, Washington.  (Rachel La Corte)
The Washington Capitol building is seen in March 2020 in Olympia, Washington. (Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA – A “cap-and-trade” proposal passed the state House of Representatives on Friday, one of two climate bills Democrats hope to push through before the end of session Sunday.

The proposal passed 54-43 and heads back to the Senate, which must concur on changes in the next two days.

A cap-and-trade program in Washington would apply to the largest polluters in the state. It would set a cap on emissions that polluters would have to meet by 2023. If large polluters could not clean up their work to meet the cap, they would have to purchase allowances from the state.

“It’s not too late for us to get this right,” Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, said on the floor.

The state would then receive the revenue generated from those allowances, which it would use to improve the environment and invest in programs to help those disproportionately affected by climate change, including people of color and low-income earners.

Republican amendments debated on Friday would have allowed the revenue from the bill to be used to fund the working families tax credit, which provides rebates for low-income families. The proposal passed the Legislature years ago but was never funded. Democrats have said the rebate would finally be funded with the general fund in the upcoming budgets, so there is no need for the cap-and-trade revenue to be used for it.

Instead, the revenue should be prioritized to help those suffering the most from environmental pollution, Democrats said.

Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, said the bill is needed to help tribal communities across the state. The only Native American member of the Legislature, Lekanoff said federally recognized tribes are “fighting for their lives” because of pollution.

“Today the people’s House will right the wrong of 150 years of living in a pollution-based economy,” she said.

Democrats said it is long overdue for the state to address climate change.

“It is unconscionable that we have failed to take action on climate change for this long,” said Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham.

Opponents said the program would raise prices for the average Washington resident paying for fuel, electricity or food.

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, called the bill “a trifecta of taxes embedded within an environmental policy, and it’s bad news for the people of Washington state.”

An amendment added in the House would require approval of a 5-cent gas tax increase – likely part of other legislation – before the cap-and-trade program could start. Linking climate policy to new transportation revenue to pay for roads, highways and infrastructure is what Democrats call a “grand bargain,” which has been the subject of disagreement among lawmakers.

The idea would be to invest in new infrastructure while simultaneously cleaning the air, Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, has said.

Two climate proposals, the cap-and-trade plan and a low carbon fuel standard, and their connection to a revenue package have been the subject of debate in the final days of the session.

Passing two major climate proposals and a new multibillion dollar transportation package is getting less and less likely.

Negotiations around a low carbon fuel standard are ongoing. Both chambers are trying to reach an agreement on the plan, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuel by 20% by 2035.

For now, a proposed transportation revenue package doesn’t seem like it will pass this session, but lawmakers have indicated they’re willing to work on it after session ends and call themselves back into special session when an agreement is met.

The climate proposals have been priorities for Gov. Jay Inslee since he took office. He has pushed lawmakers to pass climate change action this session.


Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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