Inslee clean energy bill passes Washington Senate

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- On the same day Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced he's running for president, the state Senate has passed a key piece of his legislative climate agenda.

The bill, which seeks to eliminate fossil fuels like natural gas and coal from the state's electricity supply by 2045, passed the chamber on a 28-19 vote Friday and now heads to the House for consideration.

Inslee announced his 2020 White House bid Friday and said that addressing climate change will be the central issue in his campaign.

The bill is the centerpiece of a proposal Inslee announced in December. Washington, which relies heavily on hydroelectric power, already generates 75 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources. The measure would require utilities to eliminate coal as an energy source by the end of 2025 as the first step toward a goal to provide carbon-free electricity by 2045.

Hydroelectric power would count toward the goal, giving the state about 25 years to find carbon-free sources for the remaining 25 percent of its electricity needs.

The penalty for noncompliance would be $60 for each megawatt-hour.

The bill's Democratic sponsor in the Senate called the plan necessary to combat global climate change.

"We have a moral responsibility to engage on every level," said Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, after the bill passed. "The idea that we don't have that responsibility is a punch in the face of our grandchildren's grandchildren."

A 2018 report from the United Nations warned of significant negative impacts as soon as 2040 from climate change, including food shortages, wildfires, and a die-off of coral reefs.

But Republicans criticized the bill, saying during debate over the measure that it would raise electricity costs without impacting global climate.

"This bill's going to raise the cost of energy and it will do absolutely nothing to improve the environment in our state or in the world," said Sen. Curtis King, a Yakima Republican.

Other Republicans pointed to the large proportion of the state's energy that already comes from non-carbon-emitting hydropower dams, and questioned the efficacy of converting the remainder when other states or nations produce more carbon.

Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, also questioned global warming itself.

"All the talk is about a temperature increase," Fortunato said. "But what happens if the temperatures start declining?"

The chamber debated two dozen proposed amendments the previous day, and while several Republican amendments were rejected, including one that would have put the bill to a popular vote if it made through the Legislature, the chamber did accept one adding renewable hydrogen as a qualifying resource under the measure.

Other amendments adopted include a downward revision of a cap on yearly electricity cost increases, from 3 to 2 percent, and a requirement for eminent domain cases involving publicly owned power companies.