OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee has for years fruitlessly yearned for climate-change legislation to reach his desk for a signature. Not anymore.

In a pair of Earth Day votes Monday, the Washington state Legislature sent two key climate-change bills to Inslee for approval.

Those, combined with final passage last week of two other carbon-reduction bills, will cement a landmark win in the governor’s long-sought and oft-foiled quest to curb global warming.

Monday’s votes included final passage of Senate Bill 5116, intended to phase out the use of fossil fuels in power generation. It vaults Washington state to the forefront of state-level efforts to develop cleaner sources of energy that don’t result in carbon emissions that scientists say are driving climate change.

SB 5116 calls for utilities to wean themselves away from coal by 2025 and remove all natural-gas-generated electricity from their retail electric loads by 2045.

It passed the Senate 29-20, with the entire 28-member Democratic caucus voting for it. Sen. Tim Sheldon, a conservative Democrat from Mason County who caucuses with Republicans, joined them.

Advertising

The act mandates that utilities pay an administrative penalty fee if they fail to comply with the law, and requires both electrical and gas utilities to include a social cost of carbon emissions as they plan for future resources.

Though carbon-free hydroelectricity currently is the biggest source of Washington’s power, fossil fuels also play a significant role in meeting demand.

In 2016, Washington utilities relied on coal for 14.64% of their electrical generation and natural gas for 11.36%, according to a state Commerce Department document.

Critics of the bill have warned that it could increase the cost of energy and make the electric grid less reliable. But Democrats, along with a coalition of supporters that includes labor and environmentalists, have argued otherwise.

“A completely clean and efficient grid will power us forward to building a 21st-century clean-energy economy with good, family-wage union jobs, a healthy climate and thriving communities,” said Larry Brown, president of the Washington State Labor Council, after the bill passed the House earlier this month.

Senate lawmakers Monday also gave a final approval to House Bill 1112, which phases out the use of hydrofluorocarbons — which are classified as a greenhouse gas — in equipment such as industrial refrigeration units.

Advertising

That bill passed 30-19, with every Democrat supporting it, along with two Republicans: Sens. Ann Rivers of La Center and Hans Zeiger of Puyallup.

The bills are part of a larger package of laws to combat climate change that Inslee, who is running for president on a green platform, and Democrats are seeking to pass during the 2019 legislative session. The session is scheduled to end Sunday, April 28.

Gov. Inslee signs a clean-energy bill. The twist? A Republican sponsored it.

Washington lawmakers last week also took final votes on two other climate bills, sending them to Inslee.

House Bill 1257 directs the state’s Commerce Department to design new energy standards for buildings larger than 50,000 square feet. It also requires the State Building Code Council to develop rules for charging electric vehicles in new buildings.

Meanwhile, House Bill 1444 sets efficiency standards for some appliances using electricity or water, and is based on standards already implemented in California and Vermont.

Another piece of key climate legislation Inslee has sought — a clean-fuels standard — is on life support.

Clean-fuels legislation would lower the carbon content in gasoline, but opponents have said it would raise gas prices, and research has shown it isn’t the most efficient way to combat climate change.

A clean-fuels bill stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this month.

the environment

More