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“The most significant piece of climate legislation the state has ever considered”

SB 5126 passed out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee last night, bringing one of the legislature’s most ambitious pieces of climate legislation ever considered one step closer to enactment.

The bill creates a system referred to as “cap and invest” where funds generated from auctioning the rights or licenses to create carbon emissions will be invested into capital infrastructure. In the case of the current bill, this would equal between $272m and $551m per year dedicated to transportation infrastructure starting in FY 2023.

Sen. Reuven Carlyle is the lead sponsor of the bill and has been working this issue almost since he first arrived in the legislature since 2009. However, his sense was that the momentum of this legislation was more about the forces in the broader economy rather than anything in the legislative process.

We’ve had 2 initiatives in 4 years. We had a cap and invest bill last year to continue the dialog and provide some education. We’ve had a transportation bill around a grand bargain that I’ve been pushing since the beginning. And, I think we’ve just learned that growing the economy in better, cleaner, low carbon way makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t seem crazy anymore.

We’ve got to build back the economy and people see opportunity in crisis. It’s not a fringe idea… So, I think the macro trends in the economy have embraced this. The markets have moved and embraced this. And, we’re moving at the speed of government to try to set up a regulatory framework to support that, but the economy is way out in front of us now.  

Sen. Steve Hobbs is the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. In 2019, Hobbs proposed a framework for transportation funding he titled “Forward Washington.”

That $17 billion proposal would have placed a fee on carbon generating $7.88 billion in revenue. It was an ambitious proposal. By connecting transportation projects to a model for carbon pricing, it set up what some advocates called an opportunity for a “grand bargain,” where new revenue from pricing carbon would be used to fund improved transportation services.

Both in 2019 and in 2020, this proposal stalled in the session. Now, the momentum behind SB 5126 has some folks optimistic about another such “grand bargain” at the end of this session.

In a late night text, Sen. Hobbs said he was optimistic about the “cap and invest” bill.

It’s a very positive first step to Forward Washington. Especially since that “cap and invest” bill provides a significant portion of the revenue to fund the package.

Hobbs is working with Republican Ranking Member Senator Curtis King and Democratic Vice Chair Rebecca Saldaña to finalize the Transportation Committee’s final package, though the initial proposals from both chambers were released yesterday.  

Last night’s vote on the “cap and invest” proposal would potentially allow for even greater funding and investments in transportation.

One advocate I spoke with argued that this topic was perhaps bigger than any other item the legislature may deliver on this year, if the final bill gets to the governor’s desk.

This is the most significant piece of climate legislation the state has ever considered. This is talking about a massive reduction in green house gas emissions in Washington State, and it’s got a lot of good momentum on it from left and right.

When asked if this legislation met the standard this advocate laid out, Sen. Carlyle put this legislation in context.

Absolutely I think this is a big deal… When you get a bill like this that Hobbs, Mullet, Saldaña, Das, Nguyen, are all supporting, I think it’s a really big deal.

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