The emotional temperature in Olympia ran high in some quarters during and after a public hearing of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee for a bill that proposes to create more ambitious greenhouse-gas (GHG) emission reduction goals than those set in 2008 – which the state is currently failing to meet.
HB 2311, sponsored by Rep. Vandana Slatter (D-48), calls on the state government to achieve zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. Slatter described the bill’s provisions at the hearing as a “moonshot,” saying “it’s really important to know that when we are putting resources towards achieving goals like this that we know where the moon is.”
Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42) said the nonbinding nature of the legislation makes it akin to a “New Year’s Resolution. We’d like to lose 20 pounds this year but if you don’t, eh, it’s no big deal.”
However, some testifying at the hearing and commenting on it afterward implied the consequences of not passing the bill would be apocalyptic.
“What we’re doing is we’re saving us – civilization.” Sen. Mona Das (D-47) told the committee. Das is the sponsor of HB 2311’s companion bill, SB 6272.
An individual with the youth-lobby group Our Climate told the committee: “it’s terrifying to think…about the millions upon millions who will get sick and die because of climate change. Being 15 and having to worry about if the world is going to survive another decade is not something I want to do.”
Following the hearing, another individual was recorded telling Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers that he deserved to die and “suffer in hell” for offering his perspective on the bill.
Those remarks drew rebuke on Twitter from Senate Majority Floor Leader Marko Liias (D-21) as well as from Guy Palumbo, a former state senator for the 1st legislative district, who, notably, had sponsored numerous carbon emission reduction bills.
In 2008 the state legislature set carbon emission reduction goals as follows:
- By 2020, reduce emissions to 1990 levels;
- By 2035, reduce emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels; and
- By 2050, reducing overall emissions to half of 1990 levels.
However, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson previously issued a memo saying that the law is not legally enforceable, and a 2019 report from the state Department of Ecology found that the state is failing to meet its current targets. According to the report, in 2015 the state emitted more than 97 million metric tons of GHG compared to 90 million in 1990. According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Washington state composes just. 1.5 percent of total U.S. emissions.
Nevertheless, ESHB 1144 introduced last year would have imposed more stringent goals, but the bill failed to clear the state Senate after narrowly passing 50-48 in the House.
HB 2311 would modify the 2008 goals as follows:
- By 2020, reduce emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels;
- By 2030 reduce emissions 45 percent below 2005 levels;
- By 2040 reduce emissions 70 percent below 2005 levels; and
- By 2050 reduce emissions 95 percent below 2005 levels and achieve zero GHG emissions by state government.
The bill requires state agencies to report biannually on their short-term and long-term plans to meet the emission reduction targets and look for “practicable opportunities” for carbon sequestration.
HB 2311 is one of several climate-related bills introduced this session, though most have failed to clear their respective chambers.
- HB 2515, which would mandate that all new cars sold starting in 2030 must be electric;
- SB 5811, which adopts California’s zero emissions vehicle program regulations;
- HB 2892, which grants the state Department of Ecology the broad authority to regulate “indirect” carbon emission as part of its Clean Air Rule; and
- SB 6335, which would add climate change and greenhouse-gas emission reduction (GHG) as part of planning requirements for certain counties.
During a Feb 13. Press conference, Governor Jay Inslee said denying climate change or refusing to take action via legislation “are equally morally unacceptable. I believe climate inaction is as bad as climate denial – or maybe even worse.”
However, HB 2311 opponents, such as Association of Washington Business Director of Government Relations Peter Godlewski told the committee it’s “a little backwards” to adopt more stringent reduction goals when the state can’t meet its current targets.
Godlewski also pointed out that one reason for the increased carbon emissions is the influx of new residents since 2008. “With another million people planning to move here in the state over the next 15 years, these new targets plan to have that same problem.”
Others, such as Washington Farm Bureau Government Relations Director Tom Davis, noted that some of the bill’s provisions regarding carbon sequestration could be linked with the bipartisan-backed SB 5947 sponsored by Majority Caucus Chair John McCoy (D-38), which creates a grant program for carbon farming. That bill cleared the Senate 32-17 on Jan. 15 and received a Feb. 7 public hearing in the House Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. It was scheduled for a committee vote on Feb. 21 but no action was taken.
HB 2311 is scheduled for a Feb. 25 committee vote.