by Eddy Ury
With Washington air quality getting worse, we’re getting a taste of what climate change means for our future. Whatcom County had a record-breaking dry summer this year, resulting in fires, strain on our agriculture economy, and health consequences for everyone in Washington. We know the consequences of climate change will continue to worsen in the coming years. We know the cause is over a century of burning fossil fuels, and, if we are to maintain a livable climate this century, we need to rapidly accelerate the transition to clean energy.
On November 6, Washington voters can make history and turn the tides of the global climate movement. Our state has stayed ahead of the curve in national progress on a range of issues with recent people’s ballot initiatives. Now voters have the power to enact groundbreaking, progressive climate legislation. Initiative 1631 will create the investments we need for clean energy, clean air, clean water, healthy forests, while safeguarding communities from the impacts of climate change during the energy transition.
I-1631 was written by the largest and most diverse coalition to ever propose a Washington ballot initiative, made up of over 250 organizations representing scientists, working families, communities of color, health professionals, environmental and clean energy advocates, businesses, faith leaders and sovereign tribes. The policy and campaign is rooted in the shared belief that everyone has a stake in the transition to a cleaner, healthier future, and it’s going to take everyone working together to get there.
I-1631 will make the state’s largest climate polluters pay a fee on the pollution they create. The largest payers will be producers of fuels and energy from oil, gas and coal that can be substituted with cleaner, renewable sources. To reduce their cost, these industries will be incentivized to invest internally in efficiency and pollution-control technologies, until the state has met its pollution-reduction goals.
Redirecting Big Oil’s Windfall Profits
I-1631 will redirect Big Oil’s windfall profits into Washington’s economy with investments that make our air and water cleaner, empower communities with locally generated renewable power sources like solar and wind, expand electrified mass transit, and ease the burden on communities most impacted by pollution. By 2035, we can expect these investments to have prevented 20 million tons of climate pollution and created 40 thousand new jobs.
So what will be funded if we pass I-1631? Seventy percent of funds will go to new clean energy infrastructure, like solar and wind power, cleaner transportation options, expanded public transit, and efficiency upgrades for homes and businesses to save on utility bills. Twenty-five percent goes to clean water and healthy forests. We’ll manage forests to be more resilient to disease and wildfires, which helps maintain improve air quality and keep our forest and fishing industries sustainable for years to come. We’ll prevent and clean up pollution in rivers and lakes to keep communities healthy. We’ll ensure a sustainable supply of drinking water, reduce risks from flood and drought, and restore fish habitat. Five percent of investments are dedicated to prepare for future challenges caused by pollution and a changing climate, so that the impacts do not disproportionately harm our most vulnerable communities.
At least 35 percent of all investments will benefit communities hardest hit by pollution and poverty — because where you live in shouldn’t determine whether you have clean air to breathe and healthy water to drink. A minimum of 15 percent of all clean energy investments will assist people with lower incomes in both urban and rural communities transition to a clean energy economy, and ensure that workers in fossil fuel industries have an opportunity to maintain their quality of life, build skills, and attain family wage jobs. Federally recognized tribes must be consulted on any projects impacting their lands or resources and a minimum 10 percent of investments must have formal support from a tribal government.
The plan also gives flexibility for energy-intensive and trade-exposed businesses in Washington to create and sustain jobs in our state and enable efficient industries to thrive. When we build new clean energy we want that aluminum, steel and concrete to come from our state with our own workers, not from overseas. For example, our Alcoa aluminum plant is a local industry that we can help protect, while still covering the vast majority of pollution in our state without simply exporting those emissions out of Washington.
The opposition to I-1631 is funded almost entirely by oil companies. They’re pouring millions into misleading advertisements, not just to avoid paying for their pollution, but because they’re afraid of what will happen when Washington can power our communities without them.
Decades of pollution have left us with a great mess, and it’s time for all of us to help clean up. With the help of I-1631, we can have the tools to do the job right.
Vote Yes on I-1631 for clean air, clean energy and healthier communities.
Eddy Ury is the Clean Energy Program Manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities in Bellingham.