The measure would get the state off coal power by 2025, with other goalposts along the way to get the entire grid to 100 percent carbon-neutral power sources by 2045.
Representatives in the House voted 56 to 42 to pass an amended version of the bill Thursday afternoon, April 11. The vote followed floor debate on several proposed amendments and concerns around the bill's potential impacts.
Republicans argued that the measure uses "the stick" instead of "the carrot" approach to get to cleaner energy, as fines could be paid by utilities that haven't gotten to the required carbon neutral levels by 2030.
They also voiced concerns about whether people around the state had sufficiently been allowed to weigh in on the measure, and tried to tie a discussion of forest management practices to the bill, which is focused on the electric grid.
"We took away the voice of the people who are going to be affected the greatest by this," said Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, just before the floor vote was taken. "I believe we need clean air now. The folks in Eastern Washington are choking on the mismanagement of our forests every summer. We know what the solution is: manage our forests. ... It’s the greatest single thing we could do to reduce carbon emissions and clean our air."
Democrats addressed other concerns their colleagues had about potential impacts to grid reliability and low-income residents, saying those issues had been accounted for in the bill.
Rep. Gael Tarleton, D-Seattle, said many groups came together over the past few years to work on the legislation, with an eye on maintaining grid reliability and moving the state to a clean energy economy.
"I rarely speak on the House floor, but I know in my heart and soul that this is one of the most important moves I will be able to influence to improve the quality of life and future of the people of Washington state and the Western region of our country," Tarleton said before the floor vote. "What we’re doing is building a different future."
Rep. Sharon Shewmaker, a Democrat from the 42nd District in Whatcom County, likened concerns about higher costs related to the transition away from fossil fuels with concerns that were raised before Congress passed the Clean Air Act decades ago. A fellow economist found that while the act did cost the country billions of dollars, she said, it also saved trillions of dollars in reduced health costs due to the benefits of cleaner air.
The legislation also provides energy assistance for low-income households.
Now that the measure has passed, it will go back to the Senate, where it originally passed, for concurrence on the changes that were made in the House. If lawmakers there agree, it will go to Gov. Jay Inslee to be signed into law.
A coalition of environmental organizations, as well as physicians, scientists, and labor leaders who had been lobbying for the bill, immediately released statements pleased with the bill's passage, including a few posted below:
“One hundred percent clean electricity means we cut carbon pollution while creating real family wage jobs and more value for the clean energy we do have. This sets us on a path to transition our electrical industry off of fossil fuels in the right way,” stated Matthew Hepner, Executive Director of the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington.
“A completely clean and efficient grid will power us forward to building a 21st Century clean energy economy with good, family-wage union jobs, a healthy climate and thriving communities,” stated Larry Brown, President of the Washington State Labor Council.
“Moving to 100 percent clean electricity is a bold step to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis and move away from dirty fossil fuels, which physicians know will benefit health,” said Dr. Mark Vossler, cardiologist and President of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.
“Washingtonians should be proud of their state’s climate leadership. SB5116 will transform the state, setting a global example. State leaders wisely took the extra step of ensuring the bill included provisions to support low-income households via energy assistance programs,” said Mark Specht, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“We are thrilled by the strong legislative leadership on climate to move us to 100% clean electricity. Washington is one step closer to building a clean economy for everyone and setting the tone for states across the country.” said Rebecca Ponzio, Climate and Fossil Fuel Program Director, Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters.