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House of Representatives will vote on historic environmental legislation before end of current session

Many environmental bills are on the floor, but the legislature has its eyes on the Climate Commitment Act, which would implement a cap and trade market on greenhouse gas emissions by 2023

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Fumes from a factory haze the sky and blur the horizon. Washington state legislature aims to limit further anthropogenic carbon emissions and the effects of climate change by implementing substantive market-based policies. // Photo courtesy of Pixabay via Pexels

Called by Gov. Jay Inslee “one of the most substantive pieces of climate legislation in the country,” the House of Representatives will vote on the Climate Commitment Act before the end of the legislative session, April 25.

Starting January 1, 2023, Senate Bill 5126 would establish a program for capping emissions in various industries and invest emission allowance auction proceeds in certain programs, projects and activities.

Emissions trading systems, or cap and trade markets, are market-based approaches to controlling pollution by providing economic incentives for reducing the emission of green-house gases. The cap and trade market would set allowances for big polluters and permit them to sell their polluting rights following the needs of industry.

In a tweet from April 8, Inslee said “the Climate Commitment Act would be a historic step forward — for climate, clean air, public health, and communities currently overburdened by pollution.”

Passed in the Senate on a vote of 25 to 24, Senator Mona Das, representing the 47th Legislative District, said she was really proud to sponsor the bill.

“I do think that it's the strongest climate, cap and invest system in the country,” Das said.

Senator Joe Nguyen is a sponsor of SB 5126 and member of the Environment, Energy and Technology Committee

“I think we need to act on climate change now, and there's really no time for us to be able to wait any longer,” Nguyen said. “I sponsored pretty much all if not all of the climate policies that we have in Washington state, because I think this is an urgent issue that we need to address.”

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, emission trade markets have been implemented in over 50 jurisdictions around the world that are home to over 1 billion people. Although their designs and features vary to accommodate the different needs of multi-national, national, regional and local economies, industries and communities.

Nguyen said that prior implementations of similar programs around the country, like in  California, have permitted Washington legislators to design a more effective and appropriate system for Washington state.

“They've in fact increased, I think, their emissions since this was first implemented, this one puts a hard cap on it, and requires it to go down as well,” Nguyen said. “So this is much more stringent, much more robust, and it also requires that communities most impacted by climate, are the ones that are going to benefit from the investments that are being made.”

While the number of emission allowances auctioned through the European Trading System in 2019 decreased by 36%, an increase in carbon prices still raised revenues by 447 million euros compared to 2018, as reported by the European Environment Agency.

Nguyen said individuals who are more impacted by climate change and pollution are oftentimes lower income communities of color, and those communities will benefit the most from the program. 

“So by doing something like this, having a very strong mindset in terms of investing the money in those most impacted communities, I think this policy makes it better,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said most of the revenue will be reinvested back right into communities most impacted. He says up to 33% would be reserved for those communities and the rest would be reinvested into infrastructure and environmental cleanup projects.

“I believe the environmental justice language is really strong,” Das said. “And that has always been a really big criticism from the environmental justice community.”

The European Union’s Emissions Trading System covers about 40% of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions. According to the European Environment Agency, it sets a limit on emissions from emission-intensive industrial and energetic activities such as electricity and heat production, cement manufacture, iron and steel production, oil refining and aviation.

Andrew Wineke, communication manager for the Department of Ecology’s air quality program, said the Climate Commitment Act would cover 75% of total state emissions.

“Moving toward a low-carbon economy will also help to reduce other forms of air pollution both directly – such as by replacing diesel-powered trucks with zero-emission electric vehicles – and indirectly, such as by reducing the effects of climate change that are worsening wildfires,” Wineke said. 

According to studies by the Department of Ecology, one of the air quality issues facing Washington is particle pollution, a mixture of tiny solids or liquid droplets that includes smoke, soot, dirt and dust floating in the air.

“The Labor Day smoke storm last year saw record-breaking particulate pollution levels across our state,” Wineke said. “The size and intensity of wildfires appears to be increasing, and climate change is predicted to accelerate this trend, as much as doubling the number of acres burned each year in the western United States by the middle of this century.”

People with heart or lung diseases, children and older adults are more likely to be irritated by particle pollution exposure, according to the Department of Ecology. They say these particles can cause earlier deaths for people with heart or lung disease, higher chances of heart attacks, airway irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing and increased asthma symptoms.

“By addressing these sources of air pollution, reducing carbon emissions will protect not just Washington’s environment, but also the health of our state’s residents and communities,” Wineke said.

With only three days left in the legislative session, Nguyen said he is cautiously optimistic about the future of the bill in the House because of the amount of legislation that remains to be decided.

“It was very contentious out of the Senate, I know that the House is eager to act on climate change as well, there are multiple options that were out there,” Nguyen said.

The bill has undergone several modifications and two substitutions from the Senate. Das said a lot of groups have been working alongside the governor's office to get the bill through the Senate and to the House Committees.

“It's really hard to pass a bill of this size and make all constituencies happy,” Das said. “But I do believe the bill has come a long way from when it was introduced.”

After passing through Appropriations on April 20, the House is set to vote on the issue before the end of the legislative session.


Cliff Heberden

Cliff Heberden is a journalism student and reporter for The Front. His work focuses on local news and coverage of ongoing issues and legislation. You can reach him at chbrdn.thefront@gmail.com.


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