Last year, in the 2020-2021 legislative session, Washington advocates capitalized on the state’s transformative emissions goal as well as Governor Inslee’s 2021 State Energy Strategy to introduce the omnibus climate and energy bill: the “Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act” (HB 1084). The bill “would require all new buildings in Washington to be zero-carbon by 2030 and seek to eliminate fossil fuel consumption in existing buildings by 2050,” marking a definitive shift toward clean electrification and away from gas (SP Global). Opposition from gas companies and some organized labor groups coupled with lack of policy maker education about the effects of methane led to the bill’s failure. Though the bill did not pass, it taught advocates about existing gaps in public and legislative knowledge concerning electrification while revealing what would become popular counterarguments by gas and industry opponents about the costs of electrification and the stability of the grid. This year, advocates were able to push through a series of bills that might facilitate greater legislative movement in the future. For a summary of these bills, see Shift Zero’s legislative wrap-up.
According to Kelly Hall, Washington State Director at Climate Solutions, in this upcoming year advocates are looking forward to how the funds generated by the Climate Commitment Act (likely to be around $1B–estimates forthcoming) will be used in the future. Building electrification advocates are hoping to design an incentive program that would benefit low- and moderate- income households, prioritizing disadvantaged communities with the first tranche of funding in order to enable the electrification of existing single and multi-family homes.
For Ali Lee, a health and equity buildings consultant and advocate in Washington and Oregon and member of the Health and Equity Alliance, priorities for an equity focused decarbonization agenda include addressing indoor and outdoor air quality, especially in “airport communities,” which suffer from the effects of leaded fuel outside and methane from fossil fuels inside (Personal Interview). Environmental justice advocates are working to get indoor air quality monitors for methane which, when paired with exterior air quality monitors, will provide a more holistic picture of the unevenly distributed burden of particulates and poor air quality. Lee has also been spearheading a program called Healthy Kitchens, which demonstrates the benefits of electric cooking compared to gas stoves when it comes to health and indoor air quality.
Funding for weatherization, Lee notes, has been successful in the past and brings together a broad group of stakeholders as it not only addresses existing issues like poor insulation and mold (a major problem in the PNW), but ensures that tenants benefit from a property owner’s upgrades by saving on their energy bills or having improved living conditions. In addition, prioritizing resiliency hubs in communities–especially during extreme heat events–is important for enabling an equitable climate adaptation strategy.
In any legislative action that the state pursues, centering equity is prioritized through Washington’s HEAL Act, which seeks to ensure equitable protection and access, undo institutional discrimination, dismantle environmental racism, and eliminate environmental health disparities. Between incentive program design, state-wide codes (like the recent state-wide electric commercial code), local electrification ordinances, and heat pump incentive programs, there is a lot that Washington will be seeking to enact equitably and responsibly in legislation and beyond.