WA carbon market linkage bill raises environmental justice concerns

Legislation is moving forward in Washington that would enable the state to link its carbon pollution market with those in Québec and California. This proposal is anticipated to lower prices for carbon allowances required by large emitters in Washington.

Supporters of the linkage bill emphasize that it doesn’t mandate Washington to merge with other carbon markets but rather “keeps the door open” for potential collaboration.

Kelly Hall, the Washington director of the nonprofit Climate Solutions, has been instrumental in supporting Governor Jay Inslee in developing policies like this one. The linkage bill was specifically requested by the state Department of Ecology, underlining its official backing and support.

Hall highlighted the potential for the linkage to reduce costs for energy companies and consumers, while also bringing additional benefits. However, she emphasized that actual implementation of the connection would require extensive negotiations.

If done right, I think that linkage could improve the environmental integrity of a combined market,” Hall stated, underscoring the importance of careful planning and execution.

Washington’s greenhouse gas reduction targets surpass those of California, extending to 2050 with a goal of a 95% reduction. Additionally, Washington’s cap-and-invest law, the Climate Commitment Act, contains stronger provisions for environmental justice.

Supporters of the linkage, including energy company BP, argue that connected markets could incentivize more states to participate and potentially elevate standards for all involved, thereby enhancing the effectiveness of carbon reduction efforts on a broader scale

“Linking the Climate Commitment Act with carbon pricing programs in California and Québec creates a larger, more stable market, which creates the most economically efficient ways for companies to lower their carbon emissions,” said Tom Wolf, a senior government affairs manager for BP America, speaking at a public hearing on the bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

“It sends a positive signal to companies like BP, who are looking at long-term strategies and investments in Washington state,” he said.

But the environmental justice group Front and Centered, which represents communities that have been overburdened by climate pollution, said the linkage bill lacks important guarantees.

“We haven’t really seen a compelling argument for how linkage would actually lead to the reduction of emissions,” said Nico Wedekind, the group’s policy counsel.

“And similarly, we are concerned with the effects of linkage on local communities across the state, particularly those who have already been facing the most direct effects of climate change and fossil fuel pollution,” he said.

The state’s Environmental Justice Council also recommended against linkage last October, before the legislative session, in a letter to the Department of Ecology.

Those groups are worried that they could lose some of the dedicated funding they fought hard to get in the current program. Last year alone, it brought in $1.8 billion.

To keep moving, the linkage bill has to be voted out of the House environment committee by next Thursday.

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