Gov. Jay Inslee won't attempt to put a price on carbon emissions during this legislative session, instead proposing a package of climate change policies that require utilities produce 100 percent "clean energy" by 2045, tightens fuel standards for vehicles, promotes electric vehicles, and incentivizes energy-efficient building.
The plan is an attempt to meet the legislature's 2008 goal of reducing Washington's greenhouse gas emissions to 25 percent below their 1990 levels by 2035.
Inslee's package comes after the state's voters handily defeated a carbon fee that would have put a price directly on carbon emissions and after multiple failed legislative attempts by the governor to directly regulate carbon emissions through either carbon pricing or a "cap and trade" system. This plan doesn't make any such attempts. At a press conference on Monday, Inslee emphasized that this package was more politically feasible.
"These [policies] make sense. They are going to make massive reductions in our carbon footprint and we can pass them this year," Inslee said. "We don’t have time to wait... That’s the reason this package is developed this way so it can pass this year because this is the 11th hour.
Inslee did not rule out passing carbon pricing in the future.
Climate scientists across the world and within our own government have increased their calls for aggressive carbon emissions policies. A UN climate report published in October warned that carbon emissions will create massive shocks to world health and the global economy far sooner than previously expected and at a rate that has "no documented historic precedent." A separate report from 13 different U.S. federal agencies warned that climate change could cost the American economy hundreds of billions of dollars, increase the size of forest fires sixfold, increase extreme temperatures, and threaten the country's clean drinking water.
President Donald Trump is, of course, only trying to worsen climate change by encouraging dirty energy sources like coal and rolling back energy efficient regulations. Inslee's package does the opposite, attempting to cut Washington's 2035 carbon emissions from a current projected rate of 81.8 million metric tons of carbon a year to 66 million metric tons of carbon.
Inslee's proposal would invest nearly $60 million in an attempt to eliminate coal power from Washington by 2025 and remove all fossil fuels from power generation by 2045. This plan will be significantly easier for Washington to meet than almost any other state in the nation because our existing power grid already relies heavily on hydroelectric power. The state's last coal power plants, which supply 13.4 percent of the state's power according to the governor's proposal, are already set to go offline by 2025. The state currently gets two-thirds of its power from hydroelectric power. Over 10 percent of the state's power is generated by natural gas, which would need to be reduced if Inslee's proposal becomes law.
More than $22 million of that money would be spent on modernizing the state's power grid to make it more energy efficient, while $17.5 million would be spent on matching grants for clean energy technology research.
The second leg of Inslee's plan targets making buildings more energy efficient by updating building codes and using state funds to "encourage net zero carbon homes and schools, and transform public buildings," according to a policy sheet published by the governor's office.
Inslee's plan will also include $1.4 million of funding for the Department of Ecology to implement a new "clean fuel standard" program that requires fuel providers reduce the total "carbon intensity" of their fuels by 10 percent by 2028 and 20 percent by 2030. This market-based approach is already in effect in British Columbia and California and allows fuel providers to reduce the amount of carbon their products emit in a variety of ways, including blending low-carbon biofuels into petroleum, using alternative fuels like electricity, or purchasing carbon credits.
Inslee's plan includes extensive investments in bringing more electric vehicles, including electric ferries, to Washington. Inslee already passed a plan that would require 50 percent of all state-owned vehicles be electric by 2020 and his new proposal builds on that plan by spending:
•$64.3 million to buy two new electric-hybrid ferries
•$53.2 million to convert two ferries into electric-hybrids
•$2 million to build more electric vehicle charging stations
•$1,000 discount on all electric vehicles under $45,000 and sales tax discount on electric vehicles under $15,000.
Inslee was joined Monday by Rep. Gael Tarleton and Sen. Reuven Carlyle, who both represent Seattle's 36th Legislative District in Olympia. Tarleton said Inslee's plan would create new jobs in the state.
"This policy will transform the way our utilities plan ahead for a carbon-free future. It will create and sustain tens of thousands of family-wage jobs in the clean energy sector," Tarleton said. "To move beyond fossil fuels by 2045 we must start the work today."
Carlyle said the legislation would effectively fight climate change.
"The fact of the matter is we have a whole range of strategies to embrace this year," Carlyle said. "This is a meaningful [piece] of legislation. This is a package that in aggregate makes a dramatic impact on the march towards reductions."
Inslee said he did not expect the new regulations to increase costs for consumers, especially when considering the costs that everyone feels from climate change.