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Washington state moves closer to comprehensive climate policy, strengthening its climate leadership

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EDF's energy experts discuss how to accelerate the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy. Guided by science and economics, EDF tackles urgent threats with practical solutions. Founded...

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By Katelyn Roedner Sutter

This post was co-authored with Kjellen Belcher, Senior Analyst, U.S. Climate Policy at EDF.

The Washington Legislature has just advanced ambitious climate policy that would make the state the second in the nation to place an enforceable, declining limit on climate pollution from the largest-emitting sectors of its economy. This is a fundamental step toward protecting the people of Washington state from the most severe consequences of climate change.

The Climate Commitment Act, which passed 7-3 out of the Environment, Energy, and Technology Committee on Thursday morning, places a firm limit on the state’s climate pollution and puts a price on carbon to ensure continued investments in community resilience, green jobs, sustainable transportation, and clean energy. The bill would guarantee that greenhouse gas emissions from across the state are slashed in line with Washington’s strong statutory climate goals.

These key features of the Climate Commitment Act will position Washington to achieve its climate commitments:

  • Declining, enforceable cap that phases out pollution. This legislation puts a firm and declining limit on climate pollution from the largest emitters in the state. That limit would ensure that Washington is able to meet the ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that state legislators have already adopted. These targets — 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, and 95% below 1990 levels by 2050 — are in line with recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. The pollution limit is especially important because Washington is currently not on track to meet its climate goals.
  • Driving reductions in overburdened communities. This bill improves upon other cap and invest-type programs by requiring ongoing assessment of whether greenhouse gases and harmful local pollutants are being reduced in communities that are overburdened by pollution. If reductions aren’t occurring, then regulated sources will face further limitations to drive emissions down, such as additional restrictions on offset use, or stricter standards for air quality. An environmental justice and equity advisory panel will also provide a forum for studying the impacts and benefits of climate policy on the environmental health disparities in communities. Further, it will recommend goals for reducing local air pollution in overburdened communities.
  • Price on climate pollution. A well-designed carbon price can help enable greater climate ambition by securing the most-cost effective reductions first. This is essential to catalyzing innovation and accelerating action, which is critical to maximizing cumulative emission reductions. The Climate Commitment Act uses a price on carbon to enable significant investments to address historic environmental injustices in Washington and speed the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Environmental and economic benefits for disproportionately impacted communities. At least 35% of funding from the climate investments account must provide direct and meaningful benefits to communities that are disproportionately burdened with environmental harms and health impacts. These investments will fund activities that build climate resilience, improve air quality, and create green jobs. Investments will be guided by an environmental justice assessment to ensure that these funds are used to alleviate environmental health disparities. The environmental justice and equity advisory panel will also provide recommendations for investment planning. Additionally, revenue from the carbon price will fund investments in clean, sustainable transportation. It is essential that these transportation investments also include a minimum of 35% of funding to benefit disproportionately impacted communities.
  • Regular program review and adjustment. An essential feature of any climate program is regular evaluation based on emission metrics. The Climate Commitment Act requires evaluation of the emissions cap to ensure Washington is on the right track to meet its climate goals. If an evaluation shows that additional action is needed to deliver reductions in pollution, the program will be adjusted to ensure that Washington meets its targets.

The Climate Commitment Act is gaining momentum and will be heard in the Senate Ways and Means Committee next. EDF will continue to support this ambitious climate legislation and will focus on ensuring program stringency, as well as ensuring that benefits are directed to disproportionately impacted communities.

This bill is an essential step to achieve the state’s science-based climate goals and to ensure future generations are safeguarded from the worst of the climate crisis. Importantly, Washington’s climate leadership can inspire other states across the nation to ramp up action, by showing them how to turn goals into successful policy that delivers.

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