2021 State Climate Legislation Round Up

The 2021 Washington Legislative Session concluded on April 25th and the Methow Valley Citizens Council Action Fund, along with many others, is celebrating bold and historic environmental progress. MVCC Action Fund holds a deep sense of gratitude for the work done by many diverse organizations and individuals this session to pass policy for Washingtonians, the climate, and people’s health. We are also grateful to the many voices from the Methow who consistently spoke up and advocated for good policy this session.

The climate and environmental legislation passed this session will have a lasting impact on the Methow Valley, providing important new programs that will help implement the Methow Valley’s climate action strategy. Several pieces of new legislation will greatly further the goals identified in the draft Methow Valley Climate Action Plan to create a resilient, carbon-neutral Methow and help our community adapt to the changes in our climate now and into the future.

Below is a summary of some key climate and environmental bills and funding passed in the 2021 Washington State legislative session. This report was compiled by the Methow Valley Citizens Council Action Fund, with support from the Environmental Priorities Coalition.

Climate Commitment Act. The act targets greenhouse emissions from the "largest emitting industries" by allowing the state to sell "greenhouse gas emission allowances." The money from those sales is then spent on green transportation, clean energy and other climate solutions. This is the first climate legislation in the country to lead the way to net zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. As the Methow continues to grow, this bill will help our community create a low-carbon, efficient, livable, resilient and affordable built environment.

Clean Fuel Standard: Requires the state to cut carbon emissions from transportation by 20 percent by transitioning to electric vehicles or cleaner fuels and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector – the Methow’s number one source of direct carbon emissions. After wildland fire, transportation from passenger vehicles is the leading source of human-caused carbon emissions, as identified in a Methow emissions report commissioned by Resilient Methow.

The Healthy Environment for All (HEAL) Act uses recommendations from the Environmental Justice Task Force to keep vulnerable populations from bearing the brunt of the damage caused by climate change by directing agencies to integrate environmental justice into its processes, policy implementation, and funding processes. This will ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable populations in our community are not left behind and support’s the Methow Valley Climate plan’s goal of ensuring affordable access to climate solutions, housing, and infrastructure needs such as broadband.

Working Families Tax Credit: Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country, and this policy is an important step to address the disproportionate tax burden on low- and middle-income earners.  This bill will directly benefit Methow residents who are struggling to make ends meet by providing a credit for a portion of sales taxes paid by eligible taxpayers. Starting in 2023, Washington residents will be able to claim the credit in the form of a remittance/refund. To qualify for this credit, you must have filed a tax return in Washington and have qualified for the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit amount ranges from $300 to $1,200 depending on the number of qualifying children.

Long-Term Forest Health: A bill to direct investments in wildfire resilience, including forest health, community preparedness and wildfire emergency response, as well as substantial funding to implement it.  This will provide important necessary funding to help advance the Methow Valley as a fire adapted community and provide funding to increase the pace and scale of forest health restoration treatments, such as prescribed burning and thinning.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes to Counties from WDFW: This bill improves the method the state uses to pay counties for payments in lieu of taxes for lands owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Counties distribute these payments to local taxing districts in the same manner they distribute property taxes supporting things like schools, emergency services, and noxious weed control. This bill will increase the amount of money that Okanogan County is eligible to receive through this program – over $500,000 annually.

Capital and Operating Budgets: The budget includes earmarks to support managing the Methow Valley’s finite water resources to meet the needs of the Methow Valley’s growing community, including $2 million to start a local water banking program to keep water in the basin. This supports one of the major goals identified in the Methow Valley Climate Action Plan – to retain local water rights.

The capital budget package also secured $448 million for projects statewide including:

$16.3 million for Community Forest grants that provide clean drinking water, protect working forest jobs, and keep economic gains local;

$75 million in stormwater grants for green infrastructure projects from Spokane to Walla Walla to Bellingham.

$81 million for clean energy projects like weatherization for low-income households, retrofits of public buildings, and grid modernizations.

One of the biggest investments seen throughout the budget is evolving environmental programs and funding processes to center racial equity and environmental justice. This will improve transparency and accessibility as the state makes decisions, utilize, and enhance data systems on health disparities, and ensure that the state is better serving the needs of frontline communities.

While significant progress was made this session, there remains critical unfinished business and a dire need to prioritize a transportation package that advances Clean and Just Transportation system, a major priority of the Methow Valley Climate Action Plan.

Transportation is the state’s – and the Methow’s – largest source of climate pollution, and we have substantial needs to ensure people can move around safely, easily, and efficiently. The Clean and Just Transportation initiative is a priority of the Environmental Priorities Coalition (a network of over twenty leading environmental groups in Washington state that influence policy at the state level), in partnership with the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. It focuses on funding and investing in a holistic transportation system with appropriate revenue sources that increase accessibility for all users, prioritize equity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental impacts.

While a Clean and Just Transportation package was not achieved this session, advocacy resulted in historic proposals for multimodal and clean transportation issues. There is more to do but a new bar has been set. The Methow Valley Citizens Council Action Fund looks forward to working with other organizations locally and statewide to help pass a transportation package that reflects the needs of Washingtonians from all life experiences.

For more information, contact Jasmine Minbashian, Methow Valley Citizens Council Action Fund: jasmine at methowaction.org