BRUSH PRAIRIE — Early Wednesday morning, a handful of the world’s green leaders showcased their climate-forward projects to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.
And it began in their elementary school’s cafeteria.
Hockinson Heights Elementary students peered up at Inslee as he entered the space, holding gifts that exhibited their zeal for sustainability: bundles of sunflowers and lavender, yellow squash and a jar of tomatoes and blueberries.
“All of it was grown in our garden,” the fifth graders said proudly.
Between quick breaths, they excitingly described to the governor and his colleagues the ways they try to minimize their environmental impacts. Unplug electronics when not using them. Don’t get more food than you’re going to eat. Turn the water faucet off. Behind them, other grade-schoolers separated uneaten tater tots and wrappers with ease between an assortment of recycling, compost and waste bins.
Hockinson School District Superintendent Steve Marshall said these are just a few testaments to the district’s green endeavors.
The district installed controls within the Hockinson Community Ed Center and district office to make its heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems more efficient. Hockinson Heights Elementary School has begun its transition to energy-efficient LED lighting.
Altogether, the district has saved more than 1.8 million kilowatt-hours of energy, Marshall said.
To date, the Hockinson School District has worked with Clark Public Utilities, Clark County Public Health, consultant group Stillwater Energy and the Washington Department of Commerce to further its goals.
Inslee’s visit to the Hockinson School District came as wildfires continue to burn and smolder Washington, though the blazes are merely one example of how climate change is impacting the environment. Coincidentally, he added, climate solutions can be found locally — beginning with a school district’s retrofits or, more importantly, a younger generation’s desire to act.
For Washington officials, the most efficient path to achieving this is through the state’s latest and most ambitious efforts to nearly decarbonize its emissions by 2050. Or, giving children a future where “the floor isn’t burning down.”
“The world is experiencing something that recent generations are going to be assaulted by if we do not act. Hockinson is acting to address this issue,” Inslee said. “The things you’re doing are the things that we have to multiply 20 million times around the world.”
Carbon-pricing, community investing
The energy retrofits in Hockinson School District’s buildings parallel the kinds of investments that will be made through the 2021 Climate Commitment Act, said Michael Furze, state Department of Commerce energy division assistant director.
In a nutshell, the bill sets limits on a company’s carbon emissions — a threshold that shrinks over time — and requires high-emitting businesses to buy credits for exceeding these limits. If everything goes according to plan, the Climate Commitment Act will eliminate 95 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions by 2050, according to the Department of Ecology.
The bill’s cornerstone carbon-pricing program, which took effect this year, requires the state’s large polluters — those emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon a year — to buy allowances at a quarterly auction for each ton of carbon they create.
Basically, fuel suppliers and distributors, oil refineries and other industrial facilities are buying permission to pollute while they transition to cleaner alternatives.
This pot of funding is invested in environmental and clean energy projects across the state, including ones that parallel Hockinson School District’s retrofits. Ecology’s third quarterly auction held in August generated $540 million for climate investments, pushing overall revenue to $1.4 billion.
The Legislature allocated $2 billion in the state 2023-2025 budget for clean energy programs, 35 percent of which will be distributed to overburdened communities and at least 10 percent will be directed to tribes. Few programs include expanding residential access to heat pumps and home weatherization, improving air quality and decarbonizing industrial areas, according to Ecology.
Critics contend that the carbon-pricing program has led to increased gas prices, putting the onus on consumers at the pump. As of early September, Washington’s average gas price hovers past $5 per gallon — a drastic jump from the national average of $3.80, according to AAA.
The Oil Price Information Service reported that some fuel suppliers increased prices more than 50 cents per gallon in anticipation for their participation, as reported by The Seattle Times in June.
In response to these price increases, Inslee said lawmakers are preparing legislation to address fuel companies passing on compliance fees.
“We’re not going to allow the rapacious oil and gas industry to continue having this profiteering going on, having such outrageous profits hold us victim to their prices,” he said. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this and stand by our anti-polluting efforts.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.