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Op-Ed: Climate change is upon us: It’s time for modern solutions

In my district in Northwest Washington, many families and small businesses are still reeling from the devastating flooding we experienced in recent months. With a warmer climate fueling the intensity of the weather extremes we’re experiencing; we know the climate crisis has unfortunately arrived. Now, we must find ways to become more resilient, so that our families, communities, and state are prepared for the future.

But the problem driving this crisis is not just the gas burned in cars and trucks. We also need to stop relying on gas in homes and commercial buildings. Many people do not know that buildings and homes powered by so-called “natural” gas cause a quarter of Washington’s total climate pollution. And because those buildings last for years, the decisions made when they were built have consequences far into our future. I look at this as one of the last frontiers that we still need to address if we are going to be serious as a state in addressing the climate crisis and protecting our communities from further flooding, deadly heat, and more.

Earlier this year, my colleagues and I introduced House Bills 1767, 1770, and other climate legislation to accelerate adoption of solutions like electric heat pumps, stronger energy efficiency standards, and expanded solar implementation. Heating and cooling our homes with safe, clean, sustainable electric energy is the answer. 

We can also push to “electrify everything” for a more climate-friendly future by advocating for stronger “codes for the climate.” I serve on the State Building Code Council (SBCC), and we are currently considering adopting stronger commercial and multifamily building energy codes. These codes are workhorses when it comes to helping us take a big bite out of our carbon emissions by, for example, making our energy usage for heating and cooling buildings more eco-friendly and more cost-effective. 

The proposed new codes would require the use of efficient electric heat pumps for space and water heating in new commercial and large multifamily buildings statewide. If passed, this would be the most advanced commercial building electrification code in the country, reflective of our state’s innovative spirit. We will be accepting public comments on our recommendations through March 11.

Washington has committed to steadily improving energy efficiency in our energy code because there’s no substitute for building right the first time. That’s why it’s essential that each SBCC revision of our building energy codes maximize opportunities to make buildings more efficient and transition away from fossil fuels. Washington should take this opportunity to continue our national climate leadership, while also improving indoor air quality and public health. 

The gas industry wants us to believe that the transition to clean energy is too hard or too expensive. But by planning ahead and working together, we can create a path that ensures that everyone has access to efficient, affordable, reliable, clean energy in their homes. And we can create not just good jobs, but real careers in installing and maintaining clean energy infrastructure in buildings throughout our state.

In addition to emergency relief, like the funds I’ve requested from the Legislature to help people repair their homes damaged by the recent floods, we need to look for preventative solutions to wean off the dirty fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis in the first place. We must advance solutions like updated energy codes that help us tap electricity from renewable energy sources to power our buildings.

The devastating flooding in Whatcom County — not to mention the heatwaves, wildfires, and smoke that are becoming annual rites of summer — is proof that climate change is upon us. We must do everything we can to ensure corporate polluters finally leave prehistoric fossil fuels where they belong – deep underground.

Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham, was appointed to represent the 40th District in January of 2020 and currently serves on the Environment & Energy, Finance, Transportation, and Rules Committees. Ramel is a Bellingham resident of 20 years and a graduate of Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment.

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