On Jan. 29 House Bill 1819 and its companion, Senate Bill 5735, were introduced to the state legislature at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire. The proposal calls for a $455 million investment in energy-efficient construction and transportation projects over the next two years, creating nearly 3,000 new "green-collar" jobs. Additionally, the proposal would provide for a tax exemption for plug-in electric vehicles, stricter energy efficiency requirements in the state building code, and a cap-and-trade program that would limit emissions by forcing businesses to purchase "pollution permits" from the state.
The cap-and-trade system would be implemented in 2012 in partnership with six other states and three Canadian provinces as part of the Western Climate Initiative. The goal is a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Requiring the purchase of pollution permits would provide a financial incentive for companies to develop cleaner technologies and create an additional source of revenue for the state. The Washington State Department of Ecology would be charged with estimating current emissions levels and managing pollution permits. The total permits available, or the "cap," would be annually reduced by a predetermined amount, allowing businesses to plan for future costs of emissions.
Support for the proposal is nearly split along party lines in the House and Senate, although sponsor Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D - Bainbridge) expects a few Republicans to vote in favor. State Republicans have voiced disagreement with the bill saying that, considering the current recession, the increased costs to businesses will result in layoffs.
Rockefeller notes that better energy technology will reduce our reliance on fossil fuel imports, which cost Washington state residents $16 billion last year. "Those are dollars that left our state that would be better spent re-powering our economy with clean, renewable energy," said Sen. Rockefeller.
The bill will now be sent to the Ecology and Parks Committee for further consideration; a final vote is expected this spring. "This is an opportunity for us to kickstart our economy," says Gregoire. "You can't wait to come out of a deep recession. It's time for us to ready ourselves."