NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, May 11th, 2023

Washington is making important, long overdue investments in environmental equity

The pas­sage of the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act in 2021 was a his­toric moment in Washington’s efforts to address the dev­as­tat­ing effects of cli­mate dam­age. It sent a loud and clear mes­sage to those who have pol­lut­ed our air and water for far too long: enough is enough. It is time for pol­luters to be held account­able for their actions and for us to take bold steps toward a clean­er, more sus­tain­able future.

Our cap-and-invest sys­tem makes sure that those who have prof­it­ed from pol­lu­tion for years begin to pay what they owe.

Set­ting a lim­it on over­all CO2 emis­sions and requir­ing top pol­luters to obtain allowances to cov­er their emis­sions fast-tracks us to a pol­lu­tion-neu­tral future.

What sets this leg­is­la­tion apart is its forth­right com­mit­ment to pri­or­i­tiz­ing equi­ty in our cli­mate action response. For too long, our most mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties have been left out of the con­ver­sa­tion, bear­ing the brunt of the dam­age caused by cli­mate dam­age. We will not allow this injus­tice to con­tin­ue any longer.

Here in Wash­ing­ton, we are lead­ing the way in ensur­ing that every­one – regard­less of their race, gen­der iden­ti­ty, or socioe­co­nom­ic sta­tus – is not only pro­tect­ed from the effects of cli­mate dam­age but giv­en equal access to resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties to ben­e­fit from a clean envi­ron­ment. By gen­er­at­ing funds that will be rein­vest­ed in the most over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties, we will cre­ate more resilient and sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties that ben­e­fit everyone.

The 2023 leg­isla­tive ses­sion marked the first oppor­tu­ni­ty for Wash­ing­ton to invest funds gen­er­at­ed from the Cli­mate Com­mit­ment Act (CCA) towards our goals. Across the oper­at­ing, cap­i­tal, and trans­porta­tion bud­gets, a total of just over $2 bil­lion of pro­ject­ed CCA rev­enues are appro­pri­at­ed for the 2023–25 biennium.

The CCA, in tan­dem with the 2021 HEAL Act, man­dates that a min­i­mum of 35% of invest­ments go direct­ly to over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties and a min­i­mum of 10% will go to projects sup­port­ed by fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized trib­al nations.

This rev­enue is going toward elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and clean-ener­gy projects, while ensur­ing com­mu­ni­ties that are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect­ed by cli­mate dam­age and air pol­lu­tion receive state assis­tance to build cli­mate resilience.

Most impor­tant­ly, the mon­ey we’re rais­ing will be used while ensur­ing new cli­mate poli­cies do not shift pol­lu­tion into these communities.

This ses­sion, we direct­ed over $430 mil­lion to advanc­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy and clean ener­gy pro­duc­tion. These funds will go toward util­i­ty bill assis­tance for low-income house­holds and ener­gy effi­cien­cy upgrades for homes, school dis­tricts, busi­ness­es and tribes. Funds will also be invest­ed in inno­v­a­tive solar projects, clean ener­gy sit­ing, and trans­mis­sion planning.

Over $1 bil­lion will go toward improv­ing air qual­i­ty and reduc­ing the amounts of green­house gas emis­sions across the state by pro­mot­ing active trans­porta­tion and improv­ing urban infra­struc­ture so that it is safe for all users.

Our bien­ni­al bud­gets also pro­vide $340 mil­lion toward restor­ing habi­tats, pro­tect­ing ecosys­tems, and strength­en­ing work­ing lands.

Invest­ing in com­mu­ni­ty health and safe­ty was at the fore­front of our minds when craft­ing how we would spend these CCA dol­lars. The Leg­is­la­ture has rec­og­nized that impacts of cli­mate pol­lu­tion are uneven­ly dis­trib­uted across the state, and we are work­ing to address those lega­cies while build­ing more resilient communities.

That is why we are invest­ing $200 mil­lion from the CCA accounts to build cli­mate resilience plans, improve health out­comes and mit­i­gate air pol­lu­tion in over­bur­dened com­mu­ni­ties, and sup­port adap­tive strate­gies to address the impacts of cli­mate dam­age on trib­al communities.

Our efforts are noth­ing if they are not root­ed in a com­mit­ment to equi­ty. Our focus on mak­ing sure every com­mu­ni­ty has the resources they need to thrive helped us as we appro­pri­at­ed these funds.

We are mak­ing sure that no one is left behind and that we not only act bold­ly, but inclu­sive­ly for the ben­e­fit of our plan­et and all its inhabitants.

About the authors

Sen­a­tor Joe Nguyễn (D‑34th Dis­trict: White Cen­ter) rep­re­sents the 34th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict and is chair of the Sen­ate Envi­ron­ment, Ener­gy and Tech­nol­o­gy Com­mit­tee. The son of Viet­namese refugees, he is a pas­sion­ate advo­cate in the fight against cli­mate change and advanc­ing social jus­tice reform.

Sen­a­tor Rebec­ca Sal­daña (D‑37th Dis­trict: Seat­tle) rep­re­sents the 37th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict in Wash­ing­ton. She is a proud Chi­cana of Mex­i­can and Ger­man­ic roots who advo­cates for racial, social and eco­nom­ic jus­tice for his­tor­i­cal­ly oppressed communities.

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