Packed House for Senate Hearing on Climate Bill

An overflow crowd filled a Senate hearing room yesterday, waiting for the chance to weigh in on a bill that would price carbon pollution in Washington and invest in our state’s clean-energy economy, clean air and water.

Gov. Jay Inslee called for this type of legislation during his State of the State address last week and was the first person to testify in front of the committee in support of the bill, SB 6203. Following the governor were dozens of residents representing educational institutions, large and small businesses, industry groups, labor organizations, local governments, community organizations, tribes, and the residents' own families. 

Most of them spoke in support of the bill. Some had suggestions for how it could be improved. Others communicated concerns about parts of the policy but expressed interest and willingness to continue working with the legislature to make it better.

Tom Bugert, our state legislative director, testified on behalf of The Nature Conservancy in support of the bill. Tom highlighted the benefits to our state’s forests that would be realized with the bill’s passage.

Given the wildfire behavior we’ve seen over the last several years and the expectation that it will only worsen with climate change, it’s clear our forests need help. “Fortunately, [the Legislature] adopted a plan last year — unanimously — calling for treating a million acres of these forest lands over the next 15 years,” Bugert noted. “That plan will require significant resources, and SB 6203 will provide those funds.”

As a conservation organization, it’s no surprise that we were in Olympia to make our voices heard on this issue. What’s heartening to us is the diversity of other voices in the room — those who were willing to speak up in support of the bill already and the many who want to be part of the conversation as it moves forward in the legislative process.

Representatives from many Washington businesses spoke at the hearing. “This is a challenge that can and should be addressed now,” said Irene Plenefisch, representing Microsoft. “We believe the time has come for Washington state to accelerate its efforts to address climate change and we stand ready to work with you all to get that done.”

“We are encouraged by current conversation and accept the invitation to join you and stakeholders at this table,” Puget Sound Energy’s Steve Secrist told the committee members.  “Our customers care about protecting the environment for future generations and they expect us to show leadership in carbon-reduction efforts. … Everyone contributes to this global problem, and we must all be part of the solution.”

Businesses that rely on Washington’s natural resources also spoke up at the hearing. “With about one-third of carbon emissions absorbed by the ocean, climate change has already impacted shellfish production through ocean acidification,” said Bill Dewey, testifying in support of the bill as a representative of family-owned Taylor Shellfish, based in Shelton. “It’s important to Taylor Shellfish and others in our industry to adapt to the problem and address its underlying cause.”

In addition to the many business voices were local leaders like Carmen Mendez, a Yakima City Council member, who said she was excited about how the bill could jump-start clean-energy industries in her part of the state. “Yakima has abundant sun, wind, crop, and dairy-waste resources that can become renewable energy,” she said. “This bill will achieve [Yakima’s] goals by growing a strong local clean-energy industry and better preparing us to manage wildfires and droughts.”

Katie Wrubel delivered a statement on behalf of the Makah Tribal Council. “We support investing in clean-energy technology to reduce greenhouse emissions, as well as habitat restoration and other means to enhance climate resiliency,” she said. "We want to work to ensure that the needs of rural communities are met in addition to those of urban environments.”

About the Environmental Priorities Coalition

Action on climate change is one of the four priorities of the Environmental Priorities Coalition, a group of organizations working in Washington state to advocate for a healthier environment and healthy communities. To learn more about the Coalition’s top priorities and sign up for updates, including opportunities to participate in hearings like these, visit the Environmental Priorities Coalition website. You can also check out the awesome Town Hall Tool to find out about opportunities to meet your state legislators at home in your community.

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, testified to the costs of action — and of inaction — on climate change. “As we invest more in renewable energy, the cost of renewable energy decreases,” he pointed out. “But even more importantly, the cost of climate disaster has been rising exponentially year after year.”

“Clearly, carbon pricing will lower carbon emissions,” Johnson said. “And investment in the clean-energy economy will reduce emissions further — and it’ll also create jobs.”

Committee Chair Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, allowed the hearing to run longer than its scheduled two hours to permit those who had traveled long distances to speak in front of the committee. In all, more than 50 Washingtonians took the opportunity to voice their opinions about SB 6203 and about the urgent need for climate action.

The diversity of interests represented in the room illustrated the growing statewide momentum behind carbon pollution pricing that works for a cleaner, healthier, and environmentally and economically vibrant Washington. We’re proud to be at the heart of the work to ensure our state leads the way in limiting carbon emissions.

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