OLYMPIA — The Washington Legislature has passed a new carbon-pricing bill, handing a major win to Gov. Jay Inslee and making the state only the second in the nation to have such an extensive climate-change reduction policy.
The Senate on Saturday voted to approve Senate Bill 5126, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle and requested by Inslee. Despite objections from Republicans, lawmakers passed it by a vote of 27-22. It now heads to the governor’s desk.
“We are genuinely, authentically on the march toward Paris accord levels of emissions reductions,” said Carlyle after the vote Saturday.
Carlyle also pointed to a deal struck by Democratic lawmakers that could bring votes Sunday on a low-carbon transportation fuels standard, another longtime priority of many Democrats.
“This is going to have really substantial implications” he added, for reducing carbon emissions across Washington.
SB 5126 creates a system to cap carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and sets specific limits for individual businesses, according to a news statement. Those businesses would have to then purchase credits for allowed emissions.
Businesses emitting fewer greenhouse gases than the credits allotted them could then sell their credits to businesses that aren’t reducing emissions as quickly, according to the statement. The overall pool of carbon credits are to be gradually reduced by 2050, in order to hit a goal of net-zero emissions.
The money collected by the state would go toward, among other things, projects intended to reduce emissions from transportation and increase resiliency to climate change.
SB 5126 also adds requirements that air quality be monitored in communities that suffer disproportionate environmental and health impacts from pollution.
But the bill contains a provision that the policy would only take effect as scheduled in 2023 if the Legislature passes a new statewide transportation-spending package by then.
That transportation package would have to include an increase in the gas tax “of at least five cents per gallon,” according to a legislative analysis of SB 5126.
Inslee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday afternoon. On Friday evening, when the bill passed the House, a spokesperson for the governor said the proposal was still being reviewed.
Republicans have blasted the legislation as a burden on businesses that would also mean increased costs for Washingtonians.
“What I feel in my heart right now is a very heavy weight, because I know that there are families in my district from across the racial demographic who will never be able to bear the weight of what this bill promises,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, during Saturday’s floor debate.
Environmental groups Saturday hailed the legislation’s passage. And in a statement, Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians and vice president of Quinault Indian Nation, said lawmakers had “finally boldly confronted the existential threat of climate change.”
“Our collective spirit soars for the ancestors whose example we have finally heeded, and for our youth and children who deserve to live in this beautiful and blessed land the way the Creator intended it,” Sharp said in prepared remarks.
A representative for the energy company BP on Saturday also applauded the bill’s success in a statement, calling it a “critical bill for lowering carbon emissions.”
“We look forward to working with state agencies as they develop rules to implement the program,” Dave Lawler, the company’s America chairman and president, said in a statement. The company “remains firmly committed to delivering on its own net zero ambition and being part of the solution for a low carbon future.”