Reigning in Carbon Emissions and Advancing Justice

Climate and environmental justice in the 2021 Washington State Legislature

For the past several years, Audubon has been sounding the alarm on climate – birds are telling us that climate change is here, it’s worsening, and without concerted action, the outlook for birds and people is pretty grim. We also know that historical injustices make contemporary realities difficult for BIPOC communities, and that our climate policies must proactively pursue more equitable outcomes. Understanding the nature of these problems helps us more fully focus our attention on what can be done. During the 2021 legislative session we aimed to do just that and the result is one of the most productive legislative sessions for climate and environmental justice in state history.

Clean Fuels: For the third year in a row, passing a Low Carbon Fuel Standard (also known as a Clean Fuel Standard) was an Audubon Washington climate priority. Almost half of our carbon emissions come from the transportation sector, and both human and bird health is threatened by particulate emissions from fossil-fueled vehicles. A Clean Fuel Standard addresses this source of emissions head-on, requiring transportation fuels providers to lower the climate impact of their fuels, or purchase credits from companies supplying cleaner fuels (including electricity used for transportation).

Over the course of three years of advocacy, this policy has been improved to incorporate important prioritization for supporting low-income and underserved communities in transitioning to lower carbon forms of transportation. After years of stalling in the State Senate, this policy finally passed both chambers and is on its way to Governor Inslee for his signature. This is a major victory for climate advocates in Washington State and a textbook example of persistence-in-action.

Bushtit. Photo: Christian Tompkins

Climate funding for growth management: Our other climate priority for 2021 was passing HB 1099, legislation that would add climate change to our state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). The GMA requires counties and regional planning agencies to plan for wise land use, but because it was created over 30 years ago, it doesn’t account for a rapidly changing climate. This bill would have addressed that by requiring local planners to incorporate climate resilience into their comprehensive plans. To support these efforts, the bill directed money to the Department of Commerce to develop a “model element,” which would help planners efficiently incorporate climate change into their comprehensive plans.

Unfortunately, this bill stalled out in the Senate Transportation Committee, but the funding for the Department of Commerce was included as a budget proviso in the final state operating budget, meaning these model elements will be available for counties who choose to incorporate climate change into their comprehensive plans. Additionally, if the legislature passes HB 1099 in 2022, there will already be a developing framework in place so that King, Snohomish, Pierce, and Kitsap can hit the ground running in their next round of comprehensive planning.

White-crowned Sparrow. Photo: Terry Rodgers

Cap and Invest: For years, Audubon Washington has supported carbon pricing policies that equitably reduce carbon emissions. This year we supported two separate proposals, the Governor’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA) and Washington STRONG. Ultimately, there was more legislative momentum to pass the CCA, so we joined with our partners to encourage the legislature to enhance the environmental justice provisions in CCA and finally put a price on carbon pollution in Washington State. In the final days of the legislative session, the House and Senate passed both CCA and Clean Fuels, but made both contingent on the passage of a new transportation package before January, 2023.

We expect Governor Inslee to convene a special legislative session later this year to pass a transportation package and bring these policies to life, reducing emissions and investing in climate resilient communities.

Western Tanager. Photo: Don Getty

HEAL Act: For the first time, Audubon Washington adopted an environmental justice oriented “partner priority.” We mobilized our network in support of the HEAL Act (Healthy Environment for All Act), ultimately marshalling emails to legislators, LTEs, and direct lobbying to help ensure passage of this landmark law. The HEAL Act defines environmental justice in state law and provides guidance to state agencies to ensure historically underserved communities have a seat at the table in the development and implementation of environmental policies.

Climate change, inequality, and environmental health disparities aren’t simple problems. Even with a highly productive 2021 legislative session, there is still a lot of work to be done. Audubon Washington remains committed to engaging our statewide network to continue to advance pragmatic solutions that promote resilient habitats and communities in a changing climate.

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