FILE — Inslee interview

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee takes part in an AP interview, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia, Washington.


(The Center Square) – Gov. Jay Inslee's sweeping 30-year blueprint to eliminate Washington's carbon footprint has hit a wall, leaving much of its electric dream running on empty.

State lawmakers are staring down a stack of bills this session which aim to help the state see net zero carbon emissions by 2050. To get there, the state would have to cut the equivalent of some 12.3 million cars by 2030, leaving them to cut carbon emissions (CO2) everywhere they can.

As the source of at least 20% of Washington's CO2 emissions, buildings are a big piece of the $427 million plan embedded in Inslee's proposed two-year budget.

That plan would have the state spend some $66 million electrifying its urban skylines, put $20 million towards building more green buildings, and set aside $55 million for boosting low-income households' energy efficiency.

Inslee envisioned trading the state's gas heaters with water and high-efficiency heaters in tandem with the cap-and-trade program laid out in Senate Bill 5126 curbing emissions from major manufacturers and power providers.

House Bill 1084 was intended to make new buildings carbon free by 2030 and cut fossil fuels from existing buildings by 2050. The Healthy Homes and Clean Buildings Act died on the cutting board of the House Appropriations Committee Monday.

By the U.S. Energy Information Administration's estimates, natural gas ranked as Washington's second biggest energy source next to hydroelectric power. A byproduct of oil, natural gas is regarded as a cleaner alternative to coal, but environmentalists contend leakage at natural gas fields and pipelines pose great risks to air pollution.

Power companies from around the Puget Sound—Puget Sound Energy, Avista, Cascade Natural Gas, and NW Natural—have spent considerable time and money lobbying in the state Capitol against expensive transitions. 

Between 2016 through 2019, Puget Sound Energy spent more than $3.5 million on lobbying and political contributions, filings with the state's Public Disclosure Commission show. Avista shelled out $2.5 million over the same period while Cascade Natural Gas spends some $100,000 per year.

The most pronounced opposition against HB 1084 came from unions who spelled out their stance against it in a Feb. 18 letter to state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, chair of the House Energy and Environment Committee. 

The six unions—United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters & HVAC/Refrigeration Mechanics, Washington Building Trades, Laborers’ International Union of North America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Operating Engineers—made it clear natural gas is written into their paychecks.

“Women and men work for years to achieve the level of expertise necessary to work on the 45,000 miles of pipelines that make up the natural gas energy delivery system," union members wrote. "They are rightfully proud of the work they do. SHB 1084 promises a transition away from that system and the careers dependent upon it.”

A handful of energy bills sit on Washington Democrats' tables this session. House Bill 1091, which sets clean fuels standard for cars and trucks, is on its second go-round in the Rules Committee. SB 5126 passed committee on Thursday. 

The Washington Legislature is set to adjourn on April 25.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.