OLYMPIA — Washington’s first auction of greenhouse gas pollution allowances generated $300 million.

Now, state senators are proposing to invest millions from the program in electrifying ports, schools and homes, conserving old forests, and helping relocate Indigenous communities who are vulnerable to climate change. 

Senate budget writers released their capital and operating biennial budget proposals this week, including investments of about $1 billion from the state’s Climate Commitment Act account. 

The Senate proposals reveal what direction spending of the climate auction dollars might go, but they’re far from the last word, as lawmakers face about one more month of the legislative session.

The carbon-pricing program is the centerpiece of the state’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act. It sets a statewide cap on greenhouse-gas emissions that gradually ratchets down over time, with a goal of decarbonization by 2050. Polluting businesses can purchase allowances at quarterly auctions. The state’s first auction was held in February.

Over time, the number of available allowances will incrementally decrease. Money raised from the auction goes to the Legislature, which intends to spend it on other programs that aim to reduce emissions.


“Our goals were really to look at how to allocate that money to prevent pollution in the first place,” Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said in Olympia on Thursday. “So reduce pollution, how to move towards a green energy economy, so what do we need to do to be able to smoothly transition to a cleaner economy?”

Rolfes said that senators were also “very focused on the health impacts of pollution” and considered whether projects could be implemented in the next year.

Some $75 million of the climate dollars included in the senators’ proposal could go to low-income families looking to switch from oil or gas furnaces to electric heat pumps.

And $80 million could support the state Department of Natural Resources’ “carbon sequestration” projects. The focus would be to preserve older, more structurally complex forests and have additional revenue to buy “replacement” lands, said Clifford Traisman, a state lobbyist for Washington Conservation Action.

Sequestering carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas, in trees which use it as food to grow helps blunt the worst effects of climate change. Globally, forests absorb about a third of all the carbon emissions annually from the burning of fossil fuels.

An additional $40 million is budgeted to help electrify some of the state’s 75 ports, allowing boats and cargo ships to shut down their engines and rely on auxiliary power when docked. An analysis of asthma rates in one California port community found that 1,600 cases of childhood asthma were attributable to proximity to ship traffic.


And about $30 million is slated for the planning, predesign and development of clean energy projects like solar, dairy digesters and grid modernization around the state.

The state is required to spend at least 10% of the total auction revenue on supporting projects led by tribes and 35% “in ways that benefit vulnerable populations in overburdened communities.”

“We’re not just trying to build a better future, we’re also trying to rectify the mistakes of the past,” Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, said in a phone call Thursday.

The operating budget proposal carves out over $9 million to put the Healthy Environment for All Act into practice, including mapping out environmental health disparities, providing state staff to assist the environmental justice council and rolling out a community engagement plan.

Front and Centered, a statewide environmental justice group led by communities of color, helped draft and advocate for the legislation that aims to help those most directly affected by pollution and climate change lead conversations about transitioning away from fossil fuels.

The group said the budget proposals fell short of meeting overburdened communities’ needs.


The group estimates 5% of the $319 million in the Senate capital budget from Climate Commitment Act investments is explicitly dedicated to benefiting non-tribal overburdened communities; and 15% of the $679 million in the senate operating budget from Climate Commitment Act investments is explicitly for non-tribal overburdened communities.

“Communities overburdened by pollution have been promised investments as a result of the Climate Commitment Act, but the Senate’s initial proposal has our frontline communities asking: where did those commitments go?” Deric Gruen, Front and Centered co-executive director of programs and policy said in a statement.

The proposed budget would add an additional $50 million for Indigenous communities in areas vulnerable to sea level rise, flooding or other disturbances caused by climate change to relocate. It also earmarks nearly $12 million of the funds for the Quinault Indian Nation.

The courthouse, community center, store, post office and dozens of homes in Quinault’s lower village of Taholah were flooded within minutes when the ocean breached the seawall two winters ago. But it wasn’t the first time. Near the mouth of the Quinault River, the village had already begun to experience the effects of sea level rise and intense storm surges that caused flooding and landslides in early 2014 and again in 2015.

The Quinault Indian Nation is just one of many tribal communities now bearing the brunt of climate change despite contributing very little to it.

The plan includes $20 million to support the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association application for a U.S. Department of Energy hydrogen hub grant.


Last year, the Department of Energy announced a grant program designed to establish hydrogen hubs across the country. Washington state launched a private-public partnership intended to build out “clean hydrogen” infrastructure and eventually transition maritime, aviation and heavy industry to hydrogen fuel.

“I’m personally skeptical of hydrogen,” Nguyen said. “Most of the folks who are excited about hydrogen are oil companies who think that they can prolong their life.”

House budget writers are expected to release their spending proposals next week, and the two chambers will negotiate to agree on a final budget.

The funds will be spread across the three components of the state budget — capital, operating and transportation spending. The capital budget covers building and infrastructure spending.

Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.