The 2020 Washington state legislative session ended on Thursday, March 12, 2020. While a short session, several important clean energy bills passed.
The legislature passed the Climate Pollutants Limits bill, HB 2311, which updates Washington’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets to come in line with scientific recommendations. This bill requires Washington state to reduce GHG emissions to 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 70 percent below 1990 levels by 2040, and net zero, or 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
This is the first law in the country to set science-based limits to reach net zero. These targets keep Washington in line with the goals of the Paris agreement. The bill also encourages carbon sequestration on public lands as a method of reducing climate warming pollutants in the atmosphere.
Critics of the updated GHG targets claim that Washington already is not on track to meet the previously mandated lesser GHG targets, while proponents argue that more stringent GHG limits will force legislators and agencies to take more aggressive action to combat climate change in the future. Although this bill mandates rapid decarbonization of many sectors, other policies will need to be forcefully pursued to meet these targets within the prescribed timeframe.
The Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience Program (C-PACER), or HB 2405, recently became law with Governor Inslee’s signature. C-PACER encourages energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy by allowing commercial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term financing for energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy installations.
The loan is repaid over time through voluntary tax assessments, preventing public funds from being used to assist private building owners. This bill allows counties to voluntarily implement C-PACER Programs to encourage energy efficiency. C-PACER allows loans to be tied to the property, rather than the building owner when the building is sold, and the building is assessed at a higher value once the improvements are made.
With SB 5811, Washington State finally passed a zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate, causes Washington to adopt California’s ZEV mandate, and requires automakers to sell a certain number of zero emission vehicles (battery electric or fuel cell), or buy credits from automakers that have exceeded their quota. In addition to the quota, SB 5811 expands the types of vehicles required to meet California’s stricter emissions standards to include medium-duty vehicles.
The passage of this bill makes Washington the 12th state to adopt California’s ZEV mandate, and means that the entire West Coast will require five percent of vehicle sales to be zero emission, increasing to eight percent by 2025.
States with ZEV mandates often have more electric vehicles types available to consumers: when automakers are required to sell a certain number of these vehicles, they are more likely to increase the number of models available to appeal to a broader customer base.
HB 1110, or the Clean Fuel Standard, died in the state Senate for the second year in a row. The bill would have required biofuels to be blended into fuels to make less carbon intensive liquid fuels. While the bill would have likely raised gas prices, it would also have provided additional financial incentives to customers purchasing electric vehicles, making electric vehicles more cost competitive.
Requiring vehicles to use lower carbon fuels would improve air quality as well, especially near busy roadways, which are often located near traditionally marginalized communities. California, Oregon, and British Columbia all have a Clean Fuel Standard in place, bolstering their alternative fuel and biodiesel industries.