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Cap-and-trade bill clears committee despite business concerns

Cap-and-trade bill clears committee despite business concerns

A bill that would create a cap-and-trade program in Washington state cleared the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee this week following a public hearing and numerous revisions prior to a Feb. 19 work session. Though committee chair and PSSB 5126 sponsor Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-36) said the legislation is still a “work in progress” toward creating a balance between climate and industry priorities, other committee members opposed to it argued that the proposal still poses a threat to the state’s business climate.

Sen. Shelly Short (R-7) voiced concern over the timing of the bill, among other things: “Washington state continues to innovate, and I have no doubt that it’s going to in the future. It’s just kind of astounding to me that we’re taking this kind of action at this time. We have high unemployment in northeastern Washington and have some very important industries to Washington that I’m concerned are going to suffer under its bill. This is a work in progress, but I just feel this is the wrong bill for the time we’re at.”

Titled the Washington Clean Energy Transformation Act, PSSB 5126 directs the state Department of Ecology (DOE) to implement the cap-and-trade program by 2023, with the first emission baseline compliance period between 2015-2019. Entities subject to the law would be able to purchase allowances during auctions held four times a year. DOE would also have to conduct an environmental justice review every two years starting in 2025; if “overburdened communities” don’t experience lower emissions, DOE must work with local air pollution agencies to adopt additional regulations such as stricter air quality standards and emission limitations. The first program evaluation would be completed in 2038.

Washington state already has one of the smallest carbon footprints in the country, composing roughly 1.4 percent of all U.S. emissions. In total, the U.S. makes up 15 percent of global emissions.

“I think we can grow our economy in a way that is environmentally responsible, and I think this bill proves that that’s the case,” Carlyle told colleagues. “We want to grow our economy with less of a carbon footprint and less of an adverse effect on climate. I think we are on a path to historic reduction in emissions.”

Among the Environment, Energy & Technology Committee members is Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who is also working on a “Forward Washington” transportation package. Under PSSB 5126, portions of revenue derived from the allowances would be put into a newly created Forward Flexible Account and can only be spent on transportation projects. Hobbs noted during the Feb. 25 committee meeting that a planned amendment to be introduced in Senate Ways & Means will prohibit the cap-and-trade program from going into effect until the transportation package passes.

Hobbs added that the cap-and-trade proposal is linked to transportation in a way that “allow(s) for a very ambitious infrastructure and environmental package that this state has not seen. It will also provide the ability for us to…remove culverts in the state of Washington, which is the biggest inhibitor of salmon. We can link this with business, we can link this with the environment.”

Although Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35) voted against the bill, he noted that “I like one thing about it, the idea of the transportation is included. Where we go from here is unchartered waters. I think we’ve still got a long ways to go. I’m unsure of the port that this ship is going to tie up to.”

Sen. Phil Fortunato (R-31) was also opposed to the bill, arguing that it undermines efforts to regain legislative oversight of state agencies that can exercise enormous authority via rulemaking, “which affects our ability to represent the people in our district,” adding “we are a sales tax-driven state. We need to sell more stuff. My concern is that we’re heaping additional regulatory burdens on businesses. We may see more growth on the other side of the line in Idaho.”

While PSSB 5126 has not yet been referred to a committee, it is expected to be sent to Senate Ways & Means.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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