by Adam Maxwell and Douglas Ray, PhD
This article appeared in the Seattle Times on Jan. 13, 2020
During a short legislative session, conventional wisdom dictates that only a few small bills will pass into law, most likely on a partisan basis. Our organizations, however, choose not to accept conventional wisdom. As we have in previous legislative sessions, we will continue to work to pass several important climate bills this session while encouraging legislators — both Democrat and Republican — to support policies that protect people and birds from the worst effects of climate change.
Significant progress is possible. We know this because of our state’s tradition of transcending partisanship in the name of conservation. In 2020, elected officials can pass smart policies that reduce emissions in our state, while supporting rural economies.
So, back to that “conventional wisdom.”
Conventional wisdom No. 1: Don’t expect too much in a short legislative session.
While this might make sense in the normal course of things, we aren’t living in “normal times.” The impacts of the climate crisis are clear, here in our backyard and around the world. Audubon’s research shows that if we don’t cut emissions 45% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by midcentury, two-thirds of North American birds will be vulnerable to extinction. It’s not just the birds that are impacted. Drought, sea-level rise and climatic shifts threaten our whole economy and way of life.
Against this backdrop, we expect legislators to advance effective climate policy, every single year.
Conventional wisdom No. 2: Republicans and Democrats won’t work together on climate policy.
Conventional wisdom says Republicans and Democrats won’t collaborate in an election year. But this year, there are several opportunities for bipartisan collaboration on policies that reduce emissions and support strong local economies. The imperative to act by adopting smart climate policies that work for everyone in the state leaves little in the way of excuses for lack of cooperation beyond petty partisanship.
Two policies, in particular, should bring Democrats and Republicans together.
The Sustainable Farms and Fields bill (Senate Bill 5947) tackles carbon emissions in our agricultural sector, creating a grant program to support efficient and effective carbon-reducing and sequestration practices. The bill had bipartisan sponsors in the last session and builds on our history of successful conservation grant programs like the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Similarly, a clean fuels standard (House Bill 1110) is a proven, technology-neutral, market-based program to promote cleaner fuels, some of which we can produce right here in Washington. It doesn’t pick winners and losers, but it does reduce harmful transportation emissions.
Conventional wisdom No. 3: Climate policy harms rural communities.
The combination of these two policies shows that climate policy, at its best, supports all our communities, from Seattle to Spokane and Ritzville to Raymond.
The clean fuels standard will support utilities in helping customers embrace electric vehicles. It will also support a homegrown clean fuels industry, incentivizing the refining of biofuels and the production of renewable natural gas from biosolids, agricultural waste and other organic material. Transitioning away from a reliance on global oil markets will bring more stability and lower costs to small businesses and farmers alike.
The Sustainable Farm and Fields bill will help farmers access funding to voluntarily adopt more carbon-friendly practices, but it also has the potential to help some farmers become producers and suppliers of the clean fuels Washington needs to reach its emissions goals.
These two policies together show that there are win-win solutions, particularly when we set aside partisanship and work together to build a resilient economy.
The 2020 legislative session offers an opportunity to show “the other Washington” a path forward for supporting and adopting climate solutions. We look forward to partnering with Republicans and Democrats alike to advance common-sense solutions to climate change that address diverse needs across the state. Doing so in an election year would be a powerful statement of who we are here in the Evergreen State.