OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate passed a double-dose of conservation bills this week that would result in retrofit requirements for big, older buildings and new efficiency standards for appliances sold in Washington.
Those two bills, approved by the Senate on Monday after earlier clearing the House, are part of a broader package to reduce carbon emissions that Gov. Jay Inslee hopes will clear the Legislature. The votes have unfolded as he campaigns for president, touting his green credentials in combating climate change.
The conservation bills would combine with others to give Democratic lawmakers and Inslee what has been elusive in his tenure as governor: a big clean-energy package arriving on his desk for signature.
But to get there, legislators must take another round of votes in the House or Senate on finalized versions of those two proposals and others.
Meanwhile, one of the governor’s most-sought clean-energy proposals, a measure to reduce the carbon content in transportation fuels, has stalled in the state Senate. That has led to a last-ditch effort to meld that legislation into a transportation-infrastructure package to get the support necessary to pass it.
It would have to be accomplished quickly: The regularly scheduled legislative session ends April 28.
On Monday, the Senate passed House Bill 1257, by a narrow 25-23 vote. That bill empowers the Commerce Department to craft new energy standards for buildings larger than 50,000 square feet. It also takes other steps, such as requiring the State Building Code Council to come up with rules for electric-vehicle charging in new buildings.
Senate lawmakers also voted 26-22 to pass House Bill 1444, which would set efficiency standards for some appliances that use electricity or water, and is patterned after laws already in place in California and Vermont.
Those covered under the bill include commercial dishwashers, air compressors, computer monitors, residential ventilating fans, toilets and water coolers. Any of these items, if manufactured on or after Jan. 1, 2021, must meet state efficiency standards to be sold in Washington state.
The Senate holds the key to the fate of two other pillars of the Democratic climate agenda in Olympia:
Senate Bill 5116 would phase out use of natural gas and coal in power generation to try to reach a 100% clean-energy standard by 2045. House and Senate lawmakers have reached an agreement bringing together differing versions of that legislation, according to bill sponsor Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle. That should clear the way for a final Senate vote that would send the proposal to Inslee.
“We are on a fabulous journey, it’s unbelievably exciting to be tackling a big climate agenda,” Carlyle said.
Talks just starting
The status of another big bill sought by Inslee and many Democratic lawmakers remains uncertain.
House Bill 1110, to lower greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation fuels, passed that chamber — but stalled in the Senate Transportation Committee.
The bill directs the state Department of Ecology to implement a clean-fuels program that would reduce consumption of traditional gasoline and diesel, over time as alternative options like biogas and electricity become more common.
Under that proposal, the carbon content in transportation fuels by 2028 would have to be 10% less than their 2017 levels. Those fuels by 2035 would have to be 20% below 2017 levels. The legislation excludes fuels used by locomotives, vessels and aircraft, along with exported fuel and electricity.
HB 1110 has met strong opposition from the oil industry and Republicans, who, among other things, contend it is likely to raise the price of gas. Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, is also not enamored of the proposal.
The Transportation Committee handles infrastructure packages that fund roads, bridges and transit — which in the past have been funded by gas-tax increases. Hobbs has said he worries that clean-fuels legislation would raise gas prices, but unlike a tax on gas or carbon, the state wouldn’t collect that as revenue to pay for transportation projects.
As an alternative to the clean-fuels bill, Hobbs said there is talk about inserting the clean-fuels proposal into the transportation package he introduced this year along with some kind of funding to pay for those projects.
His proposed package would put money toward widening and maintaining highways, fix culverts that block fish passage, electrifying ferries and fund a part of a replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver. It would be funded by a carbon fee and increase in the gas tax, and impact fees for developers.
But agreements on proposals such as a transportation package often take years to come together, and preliminary talks are just starting, said Hobbs.
Asked whether it was possible to do that in the remaining weeks of the session, Hobbs said, “I don’t know … sometimes miracles happen.”
Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for the Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, called on Senate lawmakers to pass the clean-fuels bill before the session ends.
If that fails to happen, Traisman said environmental groups would likely support a new transportation package that included a clean-fuels standard, a gas-tax increase and the right mix of projects.
The conservation bills the Senate passed Monday Senate generated less legislative resistance than the clean-fuels bill.
Those bills build on decades of conservation efforts in Washington that have helped to curb the growth of energy demand and reduce fossil-fuel emissions that drive climate change. And, proponents of the two House bills say they represent important new steps at a time when the Trump administration is pulling back from such efforts.
“Recently, we’ve seen federal agencies announce their intention to relax an array of energy-efficiency requirements, which makes it all the more important for states to take the lead,” said Nancy Hirsch of the NW Energy Coalition, a regional group that promotes conservation.
Critics, during the Senate floor debate, had a range of concerns.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, attacked HB 1257 for tasking the Commerce Department with establishing what he feared would be expensive new energy standards for old buildings.
“Does anybody on the Senate floor have any idea what this is going to cost? The answer is no,” said Ericksen. “This is handing over the blank canvas to say go paint, and send … the person who owns the building the bill.”
Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat from Potlatch, Mason County, who caucuses with Republicans, spoke out against HB 1444. He cited new standards — already adapted by California — that would apply to showers heads.
“It’s not going to give you enough water to get a nice shower,” said Sheldon, who sponsored an unsuccessful amendment to remove shower heads from the new standards. “Believe me, it’s not. You are going to hate California standards in your plumbing fixtures.”
Proponents project that HB 1444 will save consumers more than $2 billion in utility payments by 2035.
Except for the clean-fuels legislation, Traisman said he’s optimistic lawmakers will send the slate of clean-energy bills to Inslee for signature.
But, he added, “We’re not taking anything for granted.”