The fires ravaging Sonoma and Los Angeles demonstrate with red-hot urgency that the American West is facing the consequences of climate change right now. We see impacts here in Washington with an expanding threat of fire, flooding, droughts and rising sea levels.
We are all affected by these threats, but urban and rural communities that are closest to sources of pollution and to the forests, rivers and shorelines disrupted by a changing climate are hit the hardest.
Nonetheless, the Trump administration has just announced that it will retreat from our nation’s longstanding commitments to reduce climate pollution through the global Paris Agreement. We must not accept this backward step. Washington state can and must affirm our commitment to the health of people and nature at home and around the world. With other forward-thinking states, like our neighbors down the Pacific Coast, we must reaffirm our commitment to eliminate climate pollution. Now is not the time to pull back.
Washington state’s commitment to smart environmental policies has inspired strong leaders in Washington, D.C., who are not giving up, despite the lack of leadership from the executive branch. The House of Representatives’ New Democrat Coalition, chaired by Representative Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, recently called for net-zero emissions by 2050. Rep. Kilmer also sits on the bicameral, bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. But even bipartisan efforts have not yet resulted in national progress, and the administration’s shortsighted withdrawal from the Paris commitments only increases the urgent need for solutions and strategies forged at local levels.
With bold, local action, Washington can set a powerful standard that leads the nation. We took great strides forward earlier this year, enacting legislation for 100% clean energy and energy-efficient buildings. But it is not enough. The Legislature must enact policies to set us on the path to net-zero carbon emissions as quickly and efficiently as possible to meet the climate crisis. In 2020, the Legislature must see through its unfinished business from this year by enacting the Clean Fuel Standard to reduce carbon pollution from cars and trucks.
In addition to cutting as much carbon as we can quickly, we must also invest in solutions that harness nature’s carbon-capturing power. Nature holds tremendous capacity to filter and store the carbon that pollutes our atmosphere and wreaks destructive impacts on our climate. With careful stewardship of the lands and waters of forests, farms and coasts, we can unlock nature’s power to capture one-third of the global carbon emissions targets.
Here in Washington, our rich and productive forests, soils and coastal areas provide an enormous carbon-storage opportunity while also sustaining our economy and our way of life. Working with partners, we must develop economically meaningful incentives to reward farmers, forestland owners, and other managers of land and water who innovate and find ways to maximize this carbon storage and incorporate other benefits such as healthy soil and productive estuaries.
Our natural world also can provide us energy to cut carbon sustainably — carefully sourced bioenergy produced under programs like a Clean Fuel Standard can support our agricultural and forestry sectors while we harvest the wind, solar and hydropower our state has in such abundance.
The Clean Fuels Standard is a great example of this opportunity. The program the Legislature considered this year would require a 20% reduction in transportation carbon pollution in Washington by 2035, a target we will achieve by deploying increasing amounts of sustainably sourced biofuels, clean and renewable electricity and other alternatives. As a result, we’ll cut not only our climate pollution but also boost air quality and public health for everyone. If the Legislature takes action this coming session, we’ll join Oregon, British Columbia and California — states and provinces that have been benefiting from this program while Washington has lagged behind. We can achieve all of this by relying on the great natural wealth we enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest.
A net-zero future is both necessary and achievable. With lawmakers’ commitment and support, the transition to efficient renewable energy, greener industry practices and clean transportation will provide economic opportunities for communities across the state. Hand-in-hand with crucial partners, we can take steps today to improve our lives and meet our climate targets. Together with scientists, tribal leaders, community leaders, natural-resource agencies, farmers, forestland owners, business leaders and policymakers, we are digging deep into the potential and practical application of nature to protect against the climate crisis.
We must tap into the power of nature and the collective strength of voices within our state and across the West. The Trump administration’s actions this week make even more urgent the need for our Legislature to take more bold steps forward: cleaning up our dirty fuels, updating the state’s carbon-emissions targets, and creating ways to enhance nature’s role as a climate solution.
Here in Washington, we pride ourselves on our grit, innovation and stewardship of our natural resources. We can and must make progress on climate change, together, for ourselves and for future generations.