Gov. Inslee announces $626 million in climate proposals

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee announced that his 2022 budget proposal will include more than $626 million for a slew of climate actions at an event with legislators in Olympia on Monday, Dec. 13.

If his proposals are successful, Washingtonians will get thousands of dollars back when they buy electric vehicles and have an easier time switching from fossil fuels to electricity in their homes.

Inslee’s proposals focus on reducing planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the building and transportation sectors. They also invest in the state’s clean energy industry and provide funds to implement the Climate Commitment Act, which is a landmark emissions reduction law passed earlier this year.

“Today is a day of great danger in the state of Washington and great opportunity,” Inslee said on Monday, referencing this summer’s heat and wildfires, as well as recent Nooksack River flooding. These extreme weather events are expected to become more frequent and severe with climate change.

His new budget proposals are based solely on existing revenue sources, Inslee said. There are federal dollars coming to Washington through the recently passed infrastructure plan, and he hopes there is additional climate funds made available if the federal reconciliation bill passes.

Washington is required to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The state is not currently on track to achieve its 2030 goal, with a forecast decline in emissions of 25% rather than 45% below 1990 levels, according to the state Department of Ecology.

About half of Inslee’s newly proposed climate investments — nearly $350 million — are dedicated to cleaning up the transportation sector, Washington’s largest source of emissions.

Inslee is scheduled to release his full 2022 supplemental budget proposal on Thursday, Dec. 16. Leading up to the release, the governor is holding several events to highlight his priority proposals, including Monday’s climate event. There is also one regarding salmon on Tuesday, Dec. 14, in La Conner and another regarding homelessness on Wednesday, Dec. 15, in Seattle.

Biggest climate foe: Transportation

Inslee said he wants to see hundreds of millions of dollars go toward making electric vehicles cheaper for Washington residents.

He proposed $100 million a year on an ongoing basis for a electric vehicle rebate program that would offer consumers $7,500 when they buy a new EV, $5,000 when they buy a used EV and $1,000 for zero-emissions motorcycles and e-bikes.

These basic customer rebates will be available to people who earn less than $250,000 a year. Low-income residents who make less than $61,000 — 60% of the state median income — will get an additional $5,000 rebate on new or used EV purchases.

“These kinds of rebates have already been adopted in several states,” Inslee said.

The rebates would be implemented in addition to the current sales tax exemption for electric vehicle purchasers.

Washington’s ferry fleet also needs to be electrified, Inslee said: Ferries make up a large chunk of emissions from state operations and run on diesel, churning out exhaust that can be damaging to human and environmental health. Inslee proposed about $91 million to go toward purchasing hybrid-electric ferries for the fleet and converting another. (The total investment over three years would be $323 million.)

“We need new boats desperately,” Inslee said.

Inslee’s proposals also include tens of million dollars to electrify the state vehicle fleet (which Inslee promised to do in November in an executive order) and promote electric vehicle infrastructure access across the state.

Public transit, as well as biking and pedestrian infrastructure was would be doled out some funds under Inslee’s proposal.

Building greener

Inslee proposed policy that would require all new buildings constructed in 2034 onward to be “net-zero ready,” meaning they would have to reduce energy use by 80%, use all-electric equipment and appliances, have the electric capacity for solar panels and include electric vehicle charging and battery storage.

This proposal also gives local jurisdictions the option to adopt a stronger, statewide ‘reach code’ for residential construction, “preventing a patchwork of different energy-related building requirements across the state,” according to a policy brief. Local governments do not currently have the authority to set energy codes for residential buildings that are stronger than state standards.

Inslee’s other building-related proposals include stronger energy efficiency performance standards for large commercial and multi-family buildings, allowing public utilities to provide incentives to customers who want to switch from fossil fuel to electric heating and requiring gas utilities to submit emissions reductions plans to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

He also wants more than $25 million to go toward improving energy efficiency in the homes of low-income families and in state buildings.

Committing to climate

Inslee often highlights the recently passed Climate Commitment Act in his public climate comments, and his new budget proposal would invest millions on implementing this legislation.

That includes $1.9 million for a state Office of Climate Commitment Accountability, which Inslee said would ensure that state agencies are incorporating climate change in their budgets and work.

“All of these agencies can have a climate function,” Inslee said. “This office is designed to make sure they fulfill it.”

He wants to create a $50 million grant program to help reduce emissions from industries that are high-emissions and cannot pass costs of carbon emissions on to consumers due to international competition. These industries — known as emissisons-intensive, trade-exposed industries — include steel and aluminum, pulp and paper and food processing.

Inslee has faced criticism for his veto of a section of the Climate Commitment Act that required Tribal consultation, and his Monday proposals included legislation and $4.2 million in funding that would require a consultation process to protect sacred sites, engage in mediation, require funding applicants to notify tribes early on in development processes and hire additional state staff to engage with tribes on consultation efforts.

His new proposals also include $1.5 million for expanded air quality monitoring in overburdened communities and $2.7 million to help the departments of Ecology and Natural Resources implement the Climate Commitment Act. (State agencies had identified inadequate funding as a barrier to their ability to carry out the Act’s requirements, according to a policy brief.)

Clean energy, more jobs

Inslee and other legislators who spoke at Monday’s events stressed the job opportunities that could be created in a gradual transition to clean energy.

“We are decarbonizing while growing our economy,” said State Senator Reuven Carlyle.

Inslee wants to dedicate $100 million to solar installation grants, including priority funding for tribes and rural communities.

Other proposed clean energy transition investments include workforce training, battery research at the University of Washington, bolstering the council that oversees siting for energy facilities and directing $17.6 million to the state’s Clean Energy Fund.

One of the two major Clean Energy Fund projects mentioned in the policy brief is a Whatcom County aluminum smelter restart project that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 750,000 tons per year.

A fitting venue

Monday’s event took place at the almost completed child care facility for state workers in Olympia, an initiative led by the state’s First Lady Trudi Inslee. The governor has touted the $10 million project for its eco-friendly design — the six-classroom building is 100% electric and outfitted with solar panels, making it the first net-zero building on the Capitol campus, according to a public discussion between Inslee and state agency leaders on Nov. 18.

By not using fossil fuels like natural gas on-site, the building will provide cleaner air to the children attending the center, Inslee said on Monday.

“It’s not just about our trees, it’s not just about our fish,” he said. “It’s about our children’s health.”

The facility also has added 37 new trees to the Capitol campus.

“We chose this nearly completed Capitol Childcare Center for our announcement not merely because we are fighting this battle on behalf of future generations, but because this facility shows us what is possible in our burgeoning green economy,” Inslee said in a Dec. 10 news release.

The Capitol Childcare Center is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2022, according to the state Department of Enterprise Services.