Senate passes carbon cap after debate on green energy, transportation

By Sydney Brown

WNPA News Service

A controversial statewide cap on carbon emissions scraped through the Legislature in a 25-24 vote late April 8 after lawmakers passed a Climate Commitment Act that majority Democrats say will boost the state’s economy and address a looming climate problem.

“It’s good for our grandchildren’s children,” Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the bill’s sponsor, told the Senate during a six-hour debate on the bill.

The program is estimated to cost $27.3 million and will likely bring in $228.5 million for the state to partly fund the Working Families Tax Credit.

Under the law, covered agencies must buy allowances from the state to continue production if they exceed the cap on carbon emissions. The money from selling those allowances would instead go into public transit, climate adaptation and reducing carbon pollution, according to the bill.

Many Republicans took issue with what they called possible hidden taxes, saying the proposal includes ways for oil companies to get out of the fees by raising prices at gas stations.

“The types of gas increases included are extraordinarily regressive,” Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said.

Supporters pointed to states like California and Oregon as examples of successful cap-and-trade systems like SB 5126. Data from California’s Air Resources Board found transportation accounted for 37 percent of carbon emissions statewide.

The bill is part of an overarching effort by lawmakers to reduce state carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050, with smaller milestones set every 10 years until then.

Supporters said the bill would not only address this goal, but offset the disproportionate effect of climate change on historically under-served communities, such as people of color and low-income families.

“This is about planning for the future and trying to do something about a problem we’re creating,” Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Seattle, said.

Opponents of the bill also saw a negative impact on rural communities and businesses who would decide to leave the state if they had to meet carbon caps.

“This policy would make zero impact on overall world greenhouse gas emissions,” Sen. Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale, said. “What you’re going to do with this policy is place every manufacturer in Washington at competitive disadvantages to someone overseas.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has attempted to pass green energy and transportation legislation before, though this is the first time the bills garnered enough support to pass.

Inslee told reporters April 8 the Climate Commitment Act prioritizes the transition to clean energy and requires corporations who contribute to pollution to pay the bill.

“It supports resilient communities by requiring air pollution monitoring in overburdened communities and a requirement to reduce it,” Inslee said.

Lawmakers also passed the Low Carbon Fuel Standard in another partisan 27-20 vote April 8, with supporters saying the bill would limit the carbon intensity in fuel and invest more in green transportation.

Together, the bills represent a larger package that will set standards to limit pollution and address groups who are more likely to experience environmental injustice.

“We’ve known for some time that we’ve needed to make substantial investments in clean transportation, carbon reduction and mitigation, and air quality improvements,” Carlyle said. “But we also know that these investments must be made in ways that address long standing economic and racial inequities. Environmental progress cannot be pursued with a blind eye to environmental justice.”