Policy Blog

Just days after its introduction, a Carbon Washington-backed bill promoting sustainable farming has accumulated a powerful and bipartisan list of sponsors in the Legislature. Senate Bill 5947, the Sustainable Farms and Fields Grants bill provides financial assistance to farmers and ranchers that adopt changes in management practices that reduce fossil fuel inputs and increase the quantity of carbon stored on their land.

Introduced in both chambers with Democratic and Republican backing on Feb. 15, the bill now has 16 sponsors representing an equal number of legislators in each party.

With agriculture accounting for about 10% of nationwide carbon emissions, and with farmers on the front lines of climate related events like heat waves and droughts, it is critical to invest in sustainable farming practices. Carbon Washington, along with the American Farmland Trust and the Washington Association of Conservation districts, has made passage of this bill a top priority, conducting outreach and research to support the legislative process. Other organizations that support the bill include the American Farmland Trust, Tulalip Tribe, PCC Community Markets, WA Dairy Federation, Washington Forest Protection Association, Audubon Washington, and The Nature Conservancy. (more…)

Inside Olympia: Biochar Roaring Back

Following a year of work by Carbon Washington, an important and innovative policy to promote the use of biochar is moving forward in the Washington state Legislature, clearing the first committee last week unanimously, opening possibilities for sequestering carbon and fortifying farmland.

Biochar, a form of charcoal produced from biomass sources like forest deadfall, offers several environmental and agricultural benefits. For instance, it sequesters carbon in soils for hundreds and possibly thousands of years while also decreasing the amount of fuel for wildfires. Agriculture benefits from the nutrients biochar infuses in the soil, which increases crop yields.

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You may have seen news or alerts about HB 1110, a bill to create a low carbon fuel standard, passed out of its first committee in the state legislature. CarbonWA has endorsed the bill, but even climate advocates have at times raised questions and concerns about the approach. The political tea leaves for the fuel standard remain uncertain for this year; however, with California, BC, and Oregon already employing a clean fuel standard, it is likely that Washington will adopt the policy at some point.

Below, we share an internal debate about the policy so you can see how we explore and analyze complex climate solutions.

Part 1: Experts debate low-carbon fuels (Part 2 below)

In a two-part series of exchanges, Clif Swiggett (CS) and Greg Rock (GR) discuss the pros and cons of low carbon fuel standards (LCFS). Rock, the board policy chair at Carbon Washington, serves as a lobbyist for carbon policies in Olympia. Swiggett has served as CTO and CEO at several Seattle technology companies and believes climate change is the defining challenge of this generation. Part 1 of their discussion looks at (1) the ability of LCFS to lower transportation emissions and (2) the effectiveness of biofuels. (more…)

Want to keep track of all the climate legislation being considered in Olympia? Thanks to longtime Carbon Washington supporter Thad Curtz, that’s now easy.

Curtz has created a blog called “Climate at the Legislature.” It includes a detailed page about each bill (easily found via search), calendars for hearings and other events, and a host of “push” features, including emails and calendar updates.

Curtz retired after 35 years on the faculty of Evergreen State College, where he taught literature and developmental psychology. In addition to Carbon Washington, he supports Audubon, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and other organizations.

Carbon Washington’s Bill Boyd talked with Curtz about how and why he set up the blog:

CarbonWA: Thad, how’d you get the idea for this?

Thad Curtz: One of my state representatives — Beth Doglio — invited constituents to come to a meeting about what was coming up in the session. She wanted to do more to keep people up to date about what’s going on in the legislature. CarbonWA’s Greg Rock was also saying we need something to help grassroots people track and summarize bills. I had done a lot of work on websites for political candidates and nonprofits, so I set up shop to make it happen. This seemed like a good way to be useful. (more…)

A newly released study exploring the impacts of initiative 1631 by the NERA economic consulting group, funded by the No on 1631 coalition, should not be used by lawmakers or voters when evaluating Initiative 1631. Below, a handful of essential issues with the study are explored. Additional technical flaws exist as well, but are not addressed in this analysis.

Betting Against Renewable Energy

A significant unknown facing climate policy advocates and detractors alike is that rate at which cleaner, greener technologies will become affordable and reliable enough for widespread use. Most models address this by modeling multiple scenarios that try to capture this uncertainty.

The NERA study is underpinned by a significantly conservative forecast of future clean energy prices and deployment, produced by the EIA. The EIA is, in general, regarded as a respectable and transparent outlet for energy-related data. However, their future forecasts have come under severe scrutiny as most of their renewable forecasts in recent years have failed to track with actual reality. As one peer reviewed examination of the EIA forecasts put it, “most of EIA’s projections for renewables sharply under-projected generation or capacity.” You can dig into this more here, but a sharply conservative forecast for future renewables growth will skew every result that follows it, and the failure of the NERA study to also present an ‘optimistic’ case, leads to an imbalanced result. Which leads us to our second concern: (more…)

The Youth Climate Trial that has meandered through Washington’s court system has stalled for the moment.

The case, pursued by eight young petitioners and supported by attorneys from the Western Environmental Law Center and Our Children’s Trust, asserts that the state is failing to protect young people from climate change impacts, and that young people have a right to a stable climate under the Washington State Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine. King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott has dismissed the case as of August 14. However, the plaintiff’s plan to appeal, so we don’t expect this to be the last word on the case. Read more about the legal background and the trajectory of the case: https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/washington  

Despite the failure to compel state action, the case holds a number of lessons for climate advocates as we advance policies to reduce carbon emissions.  (more…)

After careful analysis and input from a broad swath of Carbon Washington supporters, Carbon Washington has moved to support Initiative 1631. The following in-depth analysis was completed prior to the endorsement and is meant to be an impartial look at the strengths and weaknesses of recent climate policies proposed in Washington State. You can also learn more by visiting Yeson1631.org. 

 

Initiative 1631 is the latest iteration of carbon pricing to come to Washington state. It was filed by a coalition including the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, The Nature Conservancy, and a number of Washington’s Tribal nations. The following analysis looks at features of the ballot initiative in comparison to the recent legislative carbon tax proposal (SB 6203) that passed out of two senate committees and Carbon Washington’s 2016 carbon tax initiative (I-732). This analysis compares their ability to reduce emissions and offset any disproportionate impacts of pricing carbon, leaving discussion of political strategy and the use of other investments (like forests/water/rural economic development) to future blog posts.

This analysis is not meant to be an endorsement of the initiative or to suggest opposition to it.  (more…)

This post comes from our friends at Climate XChange, an advocacy organization based in Massachusetts that runs the State Carbon Pricing Network. Original post here.

The mission of Climate XChange is to provide policymakers and advocates with cutting edge information on market-based solutions to climate change.

By Jonah Kurman-Faber, Communications and Policy Fellow, Climate XChange

Carbon pricing efforts are not just picking up steam in New England, a similar fight is underway in the northwest. On Thursday afternoon Washington’s state Senate Committee on Ways & Means approved a substitute bill of Governor Jay Inslee’s carbon tax legislation. Inslee has been a climate champion in the Northwest, pushing multiple carbon pricing initiatives since 2015 despite substantial resistance from the legislature and courts.

His 2018 plan has been in constant flux since it was introduced last month but has achieved significant victories this month, namely passing both the Senate committee on Energy, Environment, and Technology and the Senate committee on Ways and Means.  But discussions around this bill are still running hot – various groups and officials have come out with hard stances for/against the various design factors of the bill, particularly the list of industrial exemptions. As such, here is a quick dive into the bill’s current status, what industries are exempt, and whether these exemptions make sense.

The Current Bill 

Passing this bill through the Senate Committee is a huge victory – to our knowledge it is the first time that a carbon fee was voted on and passed by subnational politicians – but there is still a long way to go. The most recent version calls for a price tag of $12 per ton of carbon starting in 2019, increasing annually by $1.80 per ton starting in 2021 until it reaches a cap of $30 per ton in 2030. This is a more modest proposal than the Inslee’s original plan, which started at $20 per ton, had a 3% percent increase in price each year with no cap.

With regards to exemptions, the bill recognizes that “some industries are energy-dependent and trade-exposed and thus have independent incentive to be energy efficient. These industries are exempt from carbon taxation in order to allow them to remain globally competitive and ensure these industries and jobs remain in Washington.” The idea makes sense on paper, as long as it’s done fairly – the bill proposes that the department of commerce establish an objective numerical process for evaluating industries that qualify for exemption.

However, the bill subsequently lists a whopping 67 industries, listed by their North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes, that are guaranteed exempt status “notwithstanding the criteria established”. In addition to these industries, the bill also exempts “transition coal power”, which is catered towards TransAlta’s few coal-fired power plants in the state that are still transitioning to natural gas. This raises concerns for local advocates – why establish an objective numerical process for determining exemptions, only to prematurely exempt large swaths of polluting industries? (more…)

A substitute version of SB 6203, the carbon tax proposal championed by Governor Inslee, passed out of the Senate Energy Environment and Technology Committee on February 1st. The substitute version is a significantly modified version of the original bill. It includes a reduced carbon tax rate, additional exemptions for various industries, new funding priorities for multi-modal transportation and rural economic development, as well as requirements for utilities, claiming credits, to eliminate carbon in the electric sector by 2050. Next, the bill moves to the Ways and Means committee, where it can be further modified. If it passes the Ways and Means committee, it will move to the floor of the Senate.

We are hopeful that this bill, even with the modifications, will move forward. In particular, we welcome the new focus on rural economic development and the provision requiring utilities to decarbonize by 2050, which ensures they are using the retained revenue to reduce their reliance on coal and natural gas. However, we are concerned that the lower price and additional exemptions will reduce the carbon reduction impact of the policy.

Carbon Washington therefore advocates returning to the original $20 per ton carbon price, removing the exemption for Transalta’s coal plant and reducing exemptions for non-EITE industries, as well as additional focus on low-income and middle-class financial support. Read on for a section-by-section breakdown of the bill. The table below also outlines the major changes between the original bill and the substitute. (more…)

EV car at charger

Washington State lawmakers are considering numerous approaches that tackle climate change in the current legislative session. (See our previous blog posts on carbon pricing and low-carbon fuels.) Among the proposals on the table are policies to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) by households, businesses and government agencies.

Current Washington EV Policies

The Washington Department of Transportation has developed a 2015-2020 EV Action Plan, which identifies 13 action items to increase EV adoption, including completion of a fast-charging network along highways and electrifying public and private fleets. This 2015 action plan aims Washington State toward the goal of placing 50,000 EVs on the road by 2020 (we are almost halfway there). Washington State also offers a sales tax exemption for the purchase of new EV vehicles, which is soon to expire (more on this later).

States with existing plans to expand electric vehicles on-the-road:

State Current EV Totals EV Cumulative Goal Goal Deadline
Washington 24,624 50,000 2020
Rhode Island 421* 43,596 2025
Vermont 943* 34,896 2025
Connecticut 2,957* 155,105 2025
Maryland 5,000* 299,392 2025
Massachusetts 5,475* 303,814 2025
Oregon 11,400 50,000* 2025
New York 12,000* 851,855 2025
California 258,000* 5,000,000** 2030

*Reported totals for 2015
**On January 26, 2018, Governor Brown announced an
executive order that would increase California’s goal of 1.5 million EVs by 2025 to 5 million EVs by 2030.


What’s proposed for Washington?
Washington can learn from Kansas City by enlisting utilities as partners. In 2015, Kansas City Power and Light chose to install over 1,000 EV charging stations, becoming the first investor-owned electric utility in the nation to install and operate its own charging network. As a result, EV adoption has already nearly doubled since the network was launched. In 2015, the Washington State legislature moved in this direction by enabling investor-owned utilities to spend a limited amount of taxpayer money on charging infrastructure.  This move was guided by a Policy Report from the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), which regulates investor-owned utilities.   The policy report was completed in 2017, and lays out some of the ground rules.  It is one of the most forward-thinking and comprehensive policy statements regarding EV infrastructure in the nation, and also sets the stage for more in-depth discussions about EV adoption.  A simple step this session would be to pass HB 2897, which would allow our smaller consumer-owned utilities to join the investor owned utilities in developing transportation plans and investing in infrastructure to electrify transportation. Here are a few other EV concepts on the table:

  • Extend the sales tax break for EVs (which is currently set to expire in early 2018)
  • Initiate higher quotas for state fleets and statewide EV goals
  • Offer cost-sharing incentives and/or mandates for electrification of public transportation
  • Ensure availability of EV-ready parking near affordable housing, multifamily housing, and commercial buildings

Below, we’ve compiled a brief table comparison of the four bills we consider most relevant. You can download a PDF here.

If you have further questions, or would like some follow up information, please contact Megan Conaway at megan@carbonwa.org. And if you have a blog idea or would like to be a featured guest author, please email us to get started.

EV Bills at a Glance