MRSC – 2021 climate-related legislative results

September 10, 2021

Lea LaCivita


Climate change
New laws and regulations

Washington State’s 2021 Ordinary Legislative Session produced a series of ambitious climate-related laws as Washington seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 1990 levels by 2035 and to become carbon neutral by 2050.

More than a dozen pieces of legislation cover a range of progressive policies, from reducing pollution to a cap-and-trade investment program to planting trees. This blog will look at two bills scored by Governor Jay Inslee as part of a set of climate priorities (HB 1091 and SB 5126), as well as HB 1216, which promotes urban forestry programs; HB 1114, which promotes utility-based tree planting programs; and HB 1287, which directs the state to begin preparations for a zero-emission transportation future.

Climate commitment law

The Climate Commitment Act, or SB 5126, creates a cap-and-trade investment program that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest greenhouse gas emitters and invests in programs and projects that will reduce emissions, develop clean transport, improve climate resilience and reduce air pollution in communities with poor environmental quality.

The new law orders the Ministry of Ecology (Ecology) to develop the cap-and-trade program as of January 1, 2023. This program covers any facility that emits at least 25,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, including industrial facilities, some fuel suppliers, state power producers, power importers and natural gas distributors.

Emissions are capped at 25,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Any facility that exceeds the cap will have to purchase pollution credits through the cap and trade program. Alternatively, if a facility cuts emissions below the 25,000-tonne cap, it generates credits that it can bank for future use, trade with other companies, or auction.

Emission limits will be monitored, verified and enforced through the use of “quotas”. The State will auction certain allowances, but others are free for certain entities:

  • Electric utilities receive free allowances under the Clean Energy Transformation Act of 2019. Any electric utility that cuts emissions below its free allowance level may auction the remaining allowances and, in accordance with the law of session, use the product to minimize cost impacts to customers (prioritizing low-income customers) through “actions that include, but are not limited to, weatherization services, decarbonization, conservation and efficiency, and billing assistance.
  • Natural gas utilities receive free allowances equal to their emissions in the first year. From 2023, they must auction 65% of these free allowances, with the number increasing from 5% per year to 100%. All auction proceeds should be donated to customer support efforts; however, only residential households that are already connected to the natural gas network are eligible for bill credits.

State revenues from the sale of allowances will help fund activities that build climate resilience, improve air quality, and create green jobs. The Climate Commitment Act requires that at least 35% of these investments provide direct and significant benefits to communities that disproportionately suffer environmental damage and health impacts, and that these investments be guided by an environmental justice assessment. .

Clean fuels

HB 1091 creates a clean fuels program designed to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels, similar to existing programs in California and Oregon.

The law directs Ecology to develop a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) for the state. The overall goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributable to each unit of combustible energy (expressed in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule) to 20% below 2017 levels by 2038 according to the following schedule:

  • No more than 0.5% per year in 2023 and 2024;
  • No more than 1.0% additional each year from 2025 to 2027;
  • No more than 1.5% additional each year from the 22nd in 2028 until 2031; and
  • No change in 2032 and 2033.

The law excludes exported fuel, electricity, fuel used by ships, railway locomotives and airplanes, and certain other categories of transportation fuel, but it does include “low carbon transportation fuel. in sectors including, but not limited to, biofuels, agriculture and forest biomass, hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water and renewable natural gas.

Fuel producers who reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels over time can acquire compliance credits, and the proceeds from the credits sold can be reinvested in other clean fuel-generating activities such as transportation electrification.

Ecology has published regulatory timelines for the Climate Commitment Act and the Clean Fuels program, with a proposal to adopt the cap and investment program rules (Chapters 173-446 WAC) by fall 2022 and l Proposed adoption of a clean fuel rule (Chapter 173 -424 WAC) by winter 2022.

Urban and community forestry

Under HB 1216, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responsible for modernizing the state’s urban and community forestry program, which provides technical assistance and capacity building resources to entities that establish forestry programs. urban and community. The use of trees and vegetation in urban settings can mitigate the urban heat island effect; reduce energy consumption by protecting buildings from the sun and wind; improve air quality by removing air pollutants and storing and sequestering carbon dioxide; and improve stormwater management and water quality by reducing and filtering runoff.

HB 1216 directs the MRN to:

  • Assist cities, counties and tribes with tree inventories and canopy surveys;
  • Carry out analyzes of urban forestry needs and opportunities in Washington and conduct a statewide tree inventory, which must be maintained and updated periodically;
  • Identify priority regions (by reviewing health disparity mapping tools and salmon and killer whale recovery data) for the implementation of urban forestry programs;
  • Develop models for local entities, such as urban forest management plans or urban forest and tree protection ordinances; and
  • Ensure that the tools developed are compatible with existing and developing urban forest carbon market reporting protocols.

The law also allows a landowner to opt out of a tree program operated by a city, county or tribe, provided they first notify the local government of this decision.

Urban heat islands

HB 1114 encourages municipal electric utilities, utility districts (PUDs) and investor-owned utilities to engage in tree planting activities to reduce the negative effects associated with urban heat islands .

The urban heat island effect is the result of large areas made up of dense buildings, concrete and asphalt that absorb heat and re-emit it, resulting in higher temperatures than rural areas where heat is diffused into the area. natural landscape. However, trees and dense forest cover in an urban area can help reduce the impact of the heat island effect.

The law encourages utilities to develop broad energy conservation programs with multifaceted goals, including tree planting programs or cool roof programs that improve the efficiency of energy use. ‘energy. It also allows utilities to solicit and use voluntary donations from customers to fund these programs and empowers the Utilities and Transportation Commission to adopt a policy that would encourage investor-owned utilities to develop similar programs.

Zero emission transport

HB 1287 calls on the state to develop an electric vehicle (EV) refueling infrastructure mapping tool, ensure electric utilities plan for increased electrification load, and strengthen requirements for state EV readiness in support of a zero-emission transportation future.

The Washington Department of Transportation is tasked with developing a mapping and forecasting tool that will predict where EV charging infrastructure will be built, how quickly EV adoption will occur, traffic flows, demand electricity for vehicle recharging and other factors to assist utilities and government agencies in planning the electrification of the transportation system. It is important to note that the legislation defines “electric vehicle” broadly to include not only passenger vehicles, but also boats, public transport, commercial vehicles and vehicles used for the transport of goods.

The Washington State Building Code Council is responsible for adopting rules for electric vehicle infrastructure requirements, as all new buildings with parking must be constructed with wiring that will accommodate charging stations for at least 10%. parking spaces.

The law also requires electric utilities to analyze how their facility resource plans can accommodate an expected increase in electricity load due to increased levels of electric vehicle use in the area. public service service area.


This blog is only about a few of the many climate-related bills in the 2021 legislative session. We will be looking at additional bills as part of the MRSC’s local climate response project.

MRSC is a private, non-profit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible Washington State government agencies can use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, political, or financial questions.

About Léa LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as Communications Coordinator in fall 2016 and manages the MRSC blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.


About Ethel Nester

Ethel Nester

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