Washington Democrats are taking full advantage of their majorities in both state chambers to advance their climate agenda in the Legislature's short, 60-day session, including a quick turnaround on bills meant to save Gov. Jay Inslee's Clean Air Rule for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Legislation requested by Inslee, in the aftermath of a state Supreme Court decision striking down most of the Clean Air Rule, aims to remedy the problem the court identified.

The high court's narrow 5-4 decision on Jan. 16 ruled that under the state's Clean Air Act, the Ecology Department can only regulate entities actually emitting GHG, but not producers or distributors of fossil fuels or other products that generate GHGs when used by consumers (CU No. 1936 [13]).

To cure this "defect," Democrats have introduced companion measures House Bill 2892 and Senate Bill 6628 modifying the Clean Air Act to include the indirect release of air contaminants, and authorizing Ecology to regulate them.

HB 2892 is slated for a vote in the House energy committee Feb. 4, hot on the heels of a Feb. 3 public hearing, while SB 6628 is scheduled to come up for a vote in the Senate energy committee Feb. 5, a week after its Jan. 29 public hearing.

The votes are scheduled ahead of the legislative session's first cutoff on Feb. 7, when most bills must be passed out of committees and read into the record on the floor for a possible vote.

Democrats also pressed their advantage when, for the second time in two sessions, an ambitious clean fuels bill has cleared the House and is headed to the Senate, where its fate is less certain.

The measure, House Bill 1110, passed in 2019 on a nearly party-line vote—three Democrats opposed it—and then died after a public hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee, despite a Democratic majority in the Senate as well.

This time around, the bill lost two more Democrats on a 52-44 vote, which came after three-and-a-half hours of debate Jan. 29. During the back and forth, Republicans warned that passage would mean skyrocketing fuel prices, businesses fleeing the state and ruined lives because of increased costs.

And Rep. Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis), ranking member of the House energy committee, said in a parting comment before the vote, "The one thing I don't understand is why we're passing a bill that we know is going to die in the Senate and why we're taking a vote that we shouldn't have to take."

Supporters say a clean fuel standard is the best way to reduce carbon emissions from the state's top source—vehicles—and cite what they say are successful programs up and running in California, Oregon and British Columbia.

HB 1110 would establish a transportation fuel program to limit carbon intensity—the amount of carbon emissions per unit of fuel energy—to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2028 and 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2035. Carbon emissions levels drop over time because the maximum allowed fuel intensity would also be decreased. The program would include tradeable credits to help fuel producers work toward cleaner fuels, for example biofuels.

During debate, opponents pointed to a worst-case estimate of a fuel cost increase by 2030 of 57 cents per gallon. According to Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-Republic), this number was taken from a study commissioned by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which has approved implementing a clean fuels standard for counties bordering the Puget Sound (CU No. 1932 [14]; 1936 [13]).

However, the cited number is the upper limit of the worst-case scenario—the lower limit is 22 cents—and the agency plan differs from the one proposed in HB 1110. The agency plan would reduce fuel carbon intensity by 25 percent by 2030, while the proposed bill specifies a 10 percent reduction by 2028.

HB 1110 would also repeal a poison pill provision in the 2015 revenue package that, as passed, would scuttle around $2 billion in transportation projects if a clean fuel standard is adopted before July 1, 2023 (CU No. 1708 [17])—language adopted when control of the Legislature was split between Republicans and Democrats.

The bill will likely head to the Senate energy committee first, and then to the Transportation Committee, although as of Jan. 31 nothing had been scheduled for it.

Another climate measure being shepherded to make the Feb. 7 cutoff is HB 2518, which addresses leaked natural gas as a component of the state's greenhouse gas inventory.

The legislation would allow utilities to recover costs of reducing the leaks, both hazardous leaks and nonhazardous fugitive emissions from gas pipelines.

The bill was reported out of the House energy committee Jan. 30 on an 8 to 3 vote. If passed by the Legislature, it would dovetail with Puget Sound Energy's recently announced initiative to reach net-zero methane emissions across its 26,000-mile natural gas distribution system by 2022 (CU No. 1937 [1]).

The committee also reported out HB 2310, which aims to reduce emissions from on-demand transportation services such as Uber and Lyft, and referred it to the House Appropriations Committee.

The House Rural Development, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee on Jan. 28 reported out HB 2504 with strong bipartisan support, and referred it to the Appropriations Committee.

HB 2504 would establish the southwest Washington salmon restoration act, which requires the state's Fish and Wildlife Department to work with federal agencies and tribal co-managers to ensure hatchery production in Grays Harbor, Pacific, Mason and Wahkiakum counties is equal to or greater than the annual average production over the past 20 years.

In addition, Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) has reintroduced his proposed carbon cap-and-trade bill, SB 5981, and scheduled it for a Feb. 4 public hearing in the energy committee, which he chairs. The legislation went nowhere in the previous session after its public hearing.

News Editor - Clearing Up

Rick Adair has been with NewsData since 2003, and is news editor for Clearing Up and editor for Water Power West. Previously, he covered environmental and energy issues in the Lake Tahoe area. He has a doctorate in earth sciences.