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News / Northwest

Washington budgets $2B to cut greenhouse gas emissions; here’s where money will go

By Isabella Breda, The Seattle Times
Published: April 28, 2023, 7:29am

SEATTLE — Washington lawmakers budgeted about $2 billion to boost the adoption of electric bikes, cars and heat pumps, build solar power projects, turn cow poop into energy, and fund other efforts related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The spending will reach just about every corner of the state.

The budget passed by the Legislature on Sunday also includes something the state hasn’t seen before: $83 million to suck up and store carbon in old trees. The funding is supposed to allow the state to save 2,000 acres of older state forests, and buy up younger forests for timber.

Some of the money will be paid through the state’s new carbon-pricing program, with $300 million already in the bank after its first carbon auction earlier this year. Some of the state’s biggest polluters must participate in quarterly auctions and buy allowances for the greenhouse gases they emit.

The budgets passed over the weekend are a compromise between lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled state House and Senate. The agreements now head to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, chair of the Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, said his biggest goal was decarbonizing while trying to make sure nobody was left behind.

“We have to — as quickly as possible — help the folks who are going to be impacted by the transition,” said Nguyen, D-White Center. “So that’s why you see everything from heat pumps to weatherization.”

Rebates and grants

Washingtonians can get a piece of $163 million to add electric heat and air conditioning in their homes.

The state Department of Commerce is tasked with rolling out a statewide program to lead outreach on installing electric heat pumps and other electric appliances, and grants to nonprofits, utilities, housing providers and community organizations to help overburdened communities and people with lower incomes electrify their homes.

An additional $5 million was earmarked for heat pumps in adult family homes.

For electric bike purchases, lawmakers budgeted $5 million to distribute rebates of up to $1,200 for people 16 years and older who are at or below 80% of their county’s median income. Everyone else (also 16 or older) can get a rebate of up to $300.

In addition, $2 million was appropriated for the creation of an e-bike lending library and ownership grant program.

The Commerce Department will receive $50 million to roll out programs and incentives for people to purchase “alternative fuel vehicles,” like electric cars. The programs are meant to prioritize people with lower incomes and living in overburdened communities. Lawmakers also approved millions for electric-vehicle charging stations.

The governor’s office said it anticipates dollars for heat pumps and electric vehicles will be distributed as grants in order to reduce cost as close to points of sale as possible. The details of the program design still need to be determined.

Meanwhile, more than $40 million will be available for cities and counties to start planning for climate change in their Growth Management Act work. That might look like reducing sprawl, creating more pedestrian-oriented areas, distributing more parks and tree canopy to be more resilient to climate change and building out housing near transit.

A boost for the grid

Help is on the way to meet the rising demands for electricity as the state works to decarbonize.

Estimates show power providers in the Pacific Northwest need acquire at least 3,500 megawatts of renewable energy resources by 2027 to ensure grid reliability and reduce emissions.

There are currently about 63,000 megawatts of power generation capacity either installed in the Pacific Northwest or located just outside the region and under contract. On average, the region generates about 26,000 megawatts annually; the bulk comes from hydropower and fossil-fueled resources.

Schools, tribal nations, local governments and state agencies can apply for grants from the Commerce Department for a piece of $50 million for solar panels and other retrofits to help cut energy use and costs. And more than $20 million will be available for those groups to conduct energy audits to look at what they need.

Nearly $40 million will support large-scale solar energy projects through grants, with about half dedicated to a solar project by the Yakama Nation. The state must spend at least 10% of the total auction revenue on projects led by tribes.

To help tribes and local governments find the best places to put these clean energy projects, lawmakers voted for $10 million for clean energy siting grants.

Nearly $40 million was set aside for grants that would fund solar and battery storage for community buildings to provide backup power.

For the biggest emitters

Meanwhile, a hefty investment in decarbonizing big trucks, boats and cattle ranches is on the way.

Lawmakers agreed on $120 million to replace fossil-fueled school buses with electric and other zero-emission buses, and incentives and infrastructure for zero-emission commercial vehicles.

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks — buses, freight, and other commercial vehicles — account for less than 5% of the vehicles on the road but produce over 20% of the emissions from the transportation sector, which accounts for more than one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Rep. Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee, said the state’s first carbon auction generated more money than anticipated, allowing for more spending on electric charging infrastructure, and one of the state’s largest investments in cutting emissions from the commercial shipping industry.

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More than $100 million will go to electrifying the state’s transit system, including ferries.

An additional $43 million from the account will help ports add onshore electric power to reduce emissions from idling engines. An analysis of asthma rates in one California port community found that 1,600 cases of childhood asthma were attributable to proximity to ship traffic.

Farmers could get a piece of $30 million to help reduce their carbon footprint. The grants could be used to help create anaerobic dairy digesters — big soupy pits where bacteria breaks down cow manure into fertilizer and biogas.

“We learned in California that they’ve used 2% of their carbon revenues for dairy digesters for methane reduction, and generated 29% of their greenhouse gas emission reduction,” said Michael Mann, the head of Clean & Prosperous Washington, who helped advocate for the spending.

Environmental justice spending

Lawmakers set aside $50 million for Indigenous communities in areas vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding or other climate change driven disturbances to relocate. And millions were earmarked to restore salmon habitat harmed by colonization, including agriculture and industrialization.

California’s carbon-pricing program has been criticized for failing to improve the lives of people with lower incomes and people of color who more often have been forced to live near major polluters because of historical policies like redlining.

Washington’s Climate Commitment Act explicitly outlines that at least 35% of the revenue from the auctions should be used “in ways that benefit vulnerable populations in overburdened communities.”

Lawmakers carved out nearly $40 million to fund projects benefiting overburdened communities. About $6 million of that will fund a participatory budget process, allowing representatives from within those communities to help shape where the money goes.

“We know that the best policy and the best budgets come when community members are engaged on the front end,” said Guillermo Rogel, Jr., legislative advocate for Front and Centered.

Language in the budget requires agencies to track how they spend climate funds. Rogel hopes that will help inform future legislation that will ensure the money is actually reaching communities disparately affected by pollution and climate change.

About $8 million is available to help map environmental health disparities, tighten regulations on air pollution in overburdened communities, and address asthma rates in King County among children living near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Just last week, a lawsuit was filed alleging that Sea-Tac, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines pollute King County towns within a 5-mile radius of the airport, increasing the risk of cancer, premature births and respiratory diseases.