With the passage of the Climate Commitment Act in 2021, the message was clear: Polluting in Washington state is no longer free. However, it is vital to acknowledge and tackle the real-life implications of these climate policies on our communities as we move forward. One critical issue in the spotlight is the increasing burden of fuel costs and the resulting hardships faced by hardworking individuals and families.
As a state senator, it is both my duty and privilege to advocate for the concerns and well-being of my constituents while working toward the creation of a sustainable and resilient future. The urgent need to address climate change and its devastating consequences has become increasingly evident in recent years. Tragic events like the extreme heat dome in 2021, which claimed the lives of 159 Washington residents, and the looming threat of even worse wildfires that endanger homes, pollute our air and compromise our health highlight the gravity of the situation.
The cost of inaction has taken its toll and we cannot continue to be held hostage by oil companies and their tactics. Let’s be clear: Delay is the new form of climate denial. Oil companies understand that climate denial won’t gain traction in this state, so they resort to prolonging action and maximizing their profits.
While oil companies and Republicans blame climate policies for fuel costs, they are reaping record profits, exceeding $200 billion, and further enriching their executives through billions of dollars in stock buybacks. Not only that, but oil profits in Washington state surpass the national average. In fact, the profits per gallon of fuel in Washington (85.6 cents) are over 10 times higher than those in Texas (7.9 cents).
Meanwhile, Republicans align themselves to please their donors. Their actions are both shameful and dangerous. When Washingtonians lost their lives due to extreme heat caused by climate change, they remained silent. When wildfires destroyed entire communities, they didn’t offer support or send letters of concern. But when oil companies are called out for their unethical tactics, they mobilize swiftly and suddenly claim to care about working-class people.
Nonetheless, engaging in arguments won’t benefit the residents of Washington. What truly matters is acknowledging the genuine hardships faced by families in the state. Leaders should shift their focus toward implementing substantial measures and providing support during this critical period as we transition toward a greener future.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the Commitment Act is dedicated to making tangible improvements in the lives of Washingtonians. One positive change you may have already noticed is that youth under 18 can now ride public transit for free in Washington state, thanks to funding from climate policies. Moreover, Washington is at the forefront of establishing the most robust public electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in the nation. Charging an EV in Washington can be significantly cheaper compared to traditional gasoline cars, and we are rapidly approaching a point where EVs will cost the same as their gas-powered counterparts.
Additionally, the bill provides financial support through the Working Families Tax Credit program, which is also funded by climate initiatives. To date, this program has already refunded over $94 million to residents across Washington state.
While finding solutions to these challenges requires thoughtful planning, collaboration and financial investment, we owe it to our communities to strike a balance that addresses the urgent need to combat climate change while alleviating the immediate struggles caused by rising fuel costs. By doing so, we can chart a path that prioritizes the long-term well-being of our planet while ensuring that no community is left to bear the burden alone.
Joe Nguyen is a Washington state Senator representing the 34th Legislative District.
Read more of the July 19-25, 2023 issue.