Washington politicians hope to keep climate in focus during 2022 legislature

click to enlarge Solar infrastructure could get a boost under Gov. Jay Inslee's climate proposals.
Solar infrastructure could get a boost under Gov. Jay Inslee's climate proposals.

With the 2022 legislative session starting on Jan. 10, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers have already started pitching climate change-oriented policies in hopes they can gather support and quickly pass their bills during the short session.

From accelerating emissions reductions by requiring electric appliances and heating in new home construction to offering "cash for lawn clunkers" like inefficient leaf blowers, the proposals vary significantly in size, cost and impact.

The session is scheduled to last 60 days, ending March 10, but there's already a growing laundry list of ideas that could go up for debate during that time.

"I think we're poised to have a lot of success on a lot of these things," says Mike Faulk, Inslee's press secretary. "Just because it's a short session doesn't mean we don't live in a critical time to get things done."

Here, we break down some of the proposals that progressive leaders in Washington state hope will make it to a vote and get official funding.

BUILDINGS

Net-Zero Ready Building Code: In order to hit greenhouse gas reductions that Washington already established, Inslee proposes requiring electrification in construction by 2034. Specifically, any building construction started in 2034 or later would be required to use only electric equipment for appliances and heating, be wired for solar panels, and have capacity for electric vehicle charging and battery storage.

Reach Code: Cities can already go beyond the existing building code requirements for commercial construction, but Inslee's proposal would expand that authority to include residential construction. This would enable cities like Spokane to reduce emissions in new home construction sooner than 2034.

That could include changes like limiting new natural gas hookups, a move that homebuilders, developers and Avista specifically tried to block in Spokane this fall with a ballot initiative, which the courts ultimately booted from the ballot.

Clean Buildings: In 2019, the Washington Clean Buildings Act required the state Department of Commerce to set energy performance standards for buildings over 50,000 square feet.

This new proposal would also require standards for buildings between 20,000 and 49,999 square feet, including large multifamily buildings. Technical assistance and some money would be available to help building owners meet the standards. Fines against buildings that aren't compliant will go into a fund to offer that technical assistance and help buildings become compliant.

Solar + storage: Inslee proposes spending $100 million to install solar panels and energy storage systems on buildings around the state. His strategic climate agenda states that eligible recipients would include retail electric utilities, tribal governments, school districts, local governments, state agencies, housing authorities and nonprofits.

CASH FOR LAWN CLUNKERS

Playing off the popular Obama-era "Cash for Clunkers" program that offered federal money to swap out old, inefficient cars for newer ones, state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, has proposed a "Cash for Lawn Clunkers" program for Washington.

People who turn in gas- or diesel-powered landscaping equipment could get $100 to $200 off the price of a more-efficient replacement.

"The deal here is simple, easy and lucrative for the public: All you need to do is turn in any lawn equipment clunker – working or not – and the state will give you up to $200," Carlyle says.

Inefficient internal combustion engines used in lawn equipment emit a huge amount of unburned fuel and hydrocarbons into the atmosphere, and they're not regulated like vehicle engines. Incredibly, because of those inefficiencies, using a leaf blower for an hour emits about the same amount of smog-causing chemicals as driving a 2016 sedan all the way from Seattle to Los Angeles, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of California.

"All you need to do is turn in any lawn equipment clunker – working or not – and the state will give you up to $200."

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Thankfully, there are now quieter, far more efficient electric options on the market, Carlyle says.

"My goal is to accelerate the transition from old-style internal combustion lawn equipment to electric, whether it's cord- or battery-based," Carlyle tells the Inlander. Tongue-in-cheek, he adds, "I feel if this passes, I have a chance of winning the Nobel Peace Prize for bringing peace and quiet to Washington."

UTILITIES/ENERGY

Decarbonization plans: Inslee's plan also would require gas utilities to submit plans to the Utilities and Transportation Commission to spell out how they'll meet the carbon reduction requirements from the 2021 Climate Commitment Act. The intent is to make sure energy prices remain affordable while utilities change the way they deliver power over the coming decades.

Energy efficient investments at state buildings: Inslee also proposes nearly $15 million in bonds to update HVAC and water heaters, install efficient boilers, and install LED lighting and solar at a variety of state-owned facilities.

Factory revamp: The governor also proposes funding a retrofit of a Whatcom County aluminum smelter to restart the plant with significantly reduced emissions, and giving a grant to the Grant County Public Utility District to build a new solar manufacturing facility. His budget proposal also includes money to help similar emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries (think pulp mills, steel producers, food processors, etc.) as they plan for and implement decarbonization.

ELECTRIC TRAVEL

Help switching to electric cars: Under another proposal from Inslee, Washingtonians could get a boost toward their purchase of an electric vehicle. Buying a new one? You could get a $7,500 rebate. Buying used? You could get $5,000. Buying a zero-emission motorcycle or e-bike? You could get a $1,000 rebate. Plus, if you make less than $61,000 a year you could qualify for another $5,000 in rebates, according to the governor's plan. To qualify for the rebate, the cap on the price of the vehicles is suggested at no more than $55,000 per sedan or $80,000 for a van, SUV or truck.

Electrifying state vehicles: In November, Inslee signed an executive order to direct state agencies to switch all light-duty vehicles to electric vehicles by 2035, and switch all heavy-duty vehicles over by 2045. His suite of proposals asks for more funding to make that happen and invest in charging stations at state agencies.

Public transportation: Inslee's proposed supplemental budget package also includes more than $347 million in funding for hybrid ferries in Puget Sound, grants to help local agencies shift to electric or alternative fuel buses, money for more electric vehicle charging stations, money for safe routes to school (walking, biking, etc.), funding for state bike paths and trails that connect regional trail systems, money for special needs transit, transit access in overburdened communities, and more. ♦