Washington state passes Cap-and-Trade policy, uses the Environmental Health Disparities Map

The Washington state legislature passed SB 5126 – the Washington Climate Commitment Act – which addresses climate change and its adverse impacts on environmental and human health. The new act:

  • Creates a cap-and-trade program to meet the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets already established under RCW 70A.45.020, reaching by year 2050, a reduction in emissions to 5 million metric tons, or 95% below 1990 levels.
  • Adds a 5 cent tax per gallon of fuel.
  • Allocates revenue from the program to a range of funding needs, including those that reduce emissions, create job opportunities, assist working families, improve environmental monitoring in highly impacted communities, and develop resilience against wildfires.
  • Establishes processes for community engagement in the program.

I’m proud that Esther Min’s PhD work contributed to, and motivated the state to take action. Page 2 of the bill mentions, “The legislature further finds that while climate change is a global problem, there are communities that have historically borne the disproportionate impacts of environmental burdens and that now bear the disproportionate negative impacts of climate change. Although the state has done significant work in the past to highlight these environmental health disparities, beginning with senator Rosa Franklin’s environmental equity study, and continuing through the work of the governor’s interagency council on health disparities, the creation of the Washington environmental health disparities map, and recommendations of the environmental justice task force, the state can do much more to ensure that state programs address environmental equity.

But there’s still important work for us to do under the new bill, which mentions the use of the companion bill SB 5141 that implements the recommendations of the state’s Environmental Justice Taskforce. Esther and I will work with our partners at the Washington Department of Health on ongoing development of the Environmental Health Disparities Map under SB 5141, which will be used by the Climate Commitment Act, “to provide recommendations for the development and implementation of the program, the distribution of funds, and the establishment of programs, activities, and projects to achieve environmental justice and environmental health goals.” Mapping will also play an important role in the Environmental Justice Assessment required each year of the Climate Commitment Act.

What’s more, there may be potential applications of my group’s community air quality sensors under the Climate Commitment Act, which calls for the Washington Department of Ecology to “Deploy an air monitoring network in overburdened communities to collect sufficient air quality data for the 2023 review and subsequent reviews of criteria pollutant reductions…”. There are exciting opportunities for our group to engage with community partners on the establishment of community monitoring, and tracking of emissions reductions and air quality improvements.

There is a lot to digest in the new act. I’ll write more in the upcoming weeks about why I think this act passed, and will provide some thoughts on some of the concerns raised about the act.