Commentary: Bold action needed from lawmakers on climate

With time running short, the Legislature must act to strengthen regulations on carbon emissions.

By Alyssa Macy, Mo McBroom and Dianne Glover / For The Herald

Most of us take our health for granted; until we no longer have it. We learned quickly that the same goes for our climate. The environment and natural systems we rely upon are rapidly changing, wreaking havoc on our everyday life.

Glaciers in the North Cascades are melting, and rising ocean temperatures are pushing our orcas and salmon to the brink of extinction. Longer, hotter summers bring deadlier fire seasons that threaten rural communities and fill our once-envied August days with smoke and ash. People are suffering and dying fighting wildfires, and kids are being hospitalized struggling to breathe the sick air. Nasty bugs that can transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and West Nile virus encephalitis will thrive in our new, hotter Washington.

Our Legislature is in session for a few more weeks and we need lawmakers to respond to this growing crisis. They cannot go home without action. Washington cannot wait another year.

Last year, Washington took the impressive step to mandate 100 percent clean electricity across the state. This is laudable progress that we can all celebrate, but it is not enough. To tackle this problem we need every tool in our toolbox. To keep progress going, legislators have two important steps they can take right now.

In January, the State Supreme Court ruled that the state’s Clean Air Act needs to be updated to cover all sources of climate pollution. House Bill 2892 and Senate Bill 6628 do just that, giving the state the tools it needs to ratchet down our climate emissions. It’s a common-sense fix to a law that hasn’t been substantively updated in more than 30 years.

In Washington, transportation accounts for more than 40 percent of climate emissions and is our largest source of air pollution. The Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1110) is another vital tool that directly addresses transportation emissions. British Columbia, Oregon and California already have a standard successfully incentivizing electrification, biodiesel from canola oil, and ethanol from forestry waste. To the north and south our neighbors are enjoying better air quality and more clean energy jobs from this proven policy. In Oregon alone, their Clean Fuel Standard has reduced pollution equivalent to taking 200,000 cars off the road.

The House has repeatedly shown that a Clean Fuel Standard is a priority, passing it in 2019 and again last month. All eyes are on the Senate, where the bill was adopted Wednesday by the Senate’s Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. The Senate need to do its part to address the climate crisis. This is the type of bold action we need this year.

These are proven solutions that work, and voters know the time to act is now. A January Crosscut/Elway poll showed that 66 percent of Washingtonians want the Legislature to “require makers of gasoline and other fuels to reduce carbon emissions.” The same poll showed climate change as a top priority for voters.

The Legislature can and must take immediate steps to act boldly to address climate pollution. We know the same sources of pollution wreaking havoc on our climate are making the air breathe and water we drink less clean. Addressing climate change means working toward better health for all Washingtonians.

For the health of our environment and our communities, legislators need to take bold climate action year after year. In 2020, we have two vital tools that do just that. But we need our leaders to act.

Alyssa Macy is the CEO of Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters. She is a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon and most recently served her Nation as the Chief Operations Officer. MoMcBroom is director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy in Washington. A lifelong Washingtonian, she leads the Conservancy’s climate work. Dr. Dianne Glover is a pediatric infectious disease specialist affiliated with Swedish Medical Center. She is a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility’s Climate Action Task Force and a national delegate for the American Academy of Pediatrics Climate Change and Health Initiative.

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