On Climate, Washington State Back In The Lead

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Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
by Noah Long

Washington State closed out its 2019 legislative session with some big wins for the climate. The legislature passed a 100% clean electricity standard, new efficiency policies, and regulation of super-pollutants, but there is more to do in coming years.

Until this year, the state has made surprisingly few big steps on climate despite strong pushes from citizen groups, some legislators, and the governor. With stronger pro-climate action majorities in both chambers, decisive action was possible this year. Governor Inslee is expected to sign multiple climate action bills next week.

Over the last weeks of the session legislators in Olympia sent the governor a number of strong climates and clean energy bills under consideration. While not all made it over their final hurdles, we are hopeful there will be even more action soon. Here are some of the wins, and near misses of the legislative session:

100% Clean Electricity? (SB5116): Success!

Washington joined California, New MexicoNevada, and Hawaii and a growing list of states moving to toward 100 percent clean electricity. Phasing out coal entirely, and transitioning to a grid powered by solar, wind, and new technologies will cut global warming pollution and build our burgeoning clean energy economy. This bill is putting Washington state on the map for clean energy leadership.

Stop Super Pollutants (HB1112): Success!

The Washington State Legislature passed a bill banning major uses of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the super potent climate pollutants used in air conditioning and refrigeration applications, aerosols, and insulating foams. The bill closely resembles the California Cooling Act enacted last year. The bill was crafted to win broad support from environmental organizations and chemical producers and equipment makers. Three other states (NY, MD, and CT) have already committed to set the same standards by regulation under existing laws, and at least a half-dozen additional states in the U.S. Climate Alliance are considering the same action. These state initiatives fill the gap left by a federal court decision blocking these measures at the federal level.

State leadership is keeping the industries that produce and use these super pollutants on the transition path consistent with the global agreement to phase down the dangerous chemicals worldwide—an amendment to the Montreal Protocol (the treaty that saved the ozone layer) reached in Kigali, Rwanda, in 2016. While the Trump administration has yet to decide whether to approve this treaty, climate action by Washington and other leadership states is keeping the United States on track to do its part.

Cleaner, More Comfortable Buildings (HB1257): Success!

Washington needs to ramp down emissions from buildings—which have increased 50 percent since 1990. This bill sets a course for nation-leading building efficiency improvements by improving the efficiency of existing buildings, promoting innovation in new buildings, and requiring that utilities account for carbon costs and establish efficiency targets for natural gas.

Park Passive House / Photo: NK Architects – Aaron Leitz

More Efficient Appliances (HB 1444): Success!

Washington joins states including California and Vermont by passing legislation that sets state appliance efficiency standards for a robust suite of appliances and equipment that are not regulated by the federal government—products like portable air conditioners, faucets, showerheads, and commercial cooking equipment. The new standards will save Washington consumers and businesses more than $315 million each year on their utility bills in 2035, reducing carbon pollution by 184,000 metric tons annually (equivalent to eliminating annual emissions from 39,000 cars). The majority of the utility bill savings comes from water savings for products including faucets, showerheads, lawn spray sprinklers, and toilets. In all, water savings will total almost 15 billion gallons each year, about 6 percent of all household water use in Washington.

In addition, the bill puts in place an important backstop of 45 lumens per watt for general service lamps, the pear-shaped light bulbs that are commonly used in homes. The Trump administration’s Department of Energy is attempting to roll back the standard for these bulbs, so this backstop protects Washington consumers and ensures that they will reap the savings from better light bulbs despite harmful federal actions.

Cleaner Transportation Incentives (HB 2042): Success!

Level 2 public charging station – Custer I-5, exit 269 – Southbound Custer Safety Rest Area Image Source: Washington State Dept of Transportation

A disproportionate amount off Washington’s emissions come from the state’s transportation sector. And while the state has some of the highest adoption rates of EVs, maintaining that momentum is important to truly transforming how the state uses energy. This bill will provide $75 million to incentivize EV purchases (up to $2,500 per vehicle), $32.5 million for commercial medium-duty trucks, $10 million to incentivize battery electric buses, and incentives for other carbon-reducing activity, including EV infrastructure, electric marine propulsion, and car-sharing programs.

Cleaner Fuels for Cars (HB1110): Failed to pass the Senate

For years climate and clean energy advocates have wanted to join Oregon and California in pushing for cleaner fuels for cars. Fossil fuels burned for transportation create about half of all of Washington’s carbon emissions; while diesel and gasoline are the single largest source of air pollution in the state—which contributes to asthma, lung cancer, and other public health challenges. The clean fuels program would also have provided a valuable incentive for electric cars and also allow electric utilities to aggregate the credits from those cars and use the revenue to encourage even more of them. The failure means this policy will be on the short list of key bills for 2020.

More Electric Car Options (SB5811): Failed to pass the House

It’s a bit surprising that with Washington’s transportation-driven emissions problems, it isn’t already one of the ten states that require manufacturers to sell zero-emission vehicles in their states. In addition to making fuels cleaner, consumers need more clean vehicle choices. Let’s hope the state can move forward on this policy soon.

What’s Next?

Washington state made significant progress on climate change this year. The state is making waves by joining the list of 100 percent clean electricity states, making serious progress on buildings, appliances, and lesser-known but hugely important super-pollutants and a step toward cutting transportation emissions.

With these successes, Washington is back in the lead. Going forward, significant attention in the state should be squarely focused on the transportation sector, where low-hanging fruit for emissions reductions remain. We hope to see movement on the low-carbon fuels and zero-emission vehicles legislation soon.

Puget Sound, by Cynthia Shahan

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