When we say Climate Justice and Just Transition; we mean it. Justice means that everyone has the right to a healthy environment and the opportunity to thrive by focusing on communities who are further from realizing those rights than others. We require a Just Transition because the physics of climate are unforgiving, because it’s the right thing to do, and because it’s the only politically possible path toward what we really need.
Justice is the foundation for a transition where we literally (for real) stop the sources of pollution driving the climate crisis that are deeply rooted in all aspects of the economy. It requires that we use our public funds to invest in the people and communities that need the support the most.
“In general, making climate action profitable is still being prioritized over pollution reduction and equity.”
In contrast, while combining the words climate and environment with justice has grown increasingly popular in Olympia, Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed budget still invests heavily in corporate polluters, the wealthy, and cars. In general, making climate action profitable is still being prioritized over pollution reduction and equity. Of the $626.5 million cited in the proposal, priorities include:
Support for polluting corporations – Over $57 million or nearly 10% of the climate allocation. Funding for the corporations causing the problem to start cleaning up their mess, paying for cleanup for which they are supposed to be regulated by law:
- Includes support for steel and aluminum production, pulp and paper mills, and food processors – aligned with a bill to provide free giveaways to energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries in calculating carbon emissions and complying with state law.
- Support for the dormant Italco aluminum smelter in Whatcom County in northwestern Washington to restart production and pollution, only with equipment that would trim carbon emissions below August 2020 levels. Again, funding directed to a heavy polluter and an extremely energy-intensive industry.
Incentives for cars and often wealthier households – $191 million or about 30% of climate allocation. The support for polluting corporations is mirrored by support for access to clean transportation incentives and infrastructure that still disproportionately benefits wealthier people:
- $100 million toward the creation of tax rebates for residents buying electric vehicles for households that make up to $500K per couple or $250K for an individual. There’s also a $5,000 bonus rebate that is still far short of closing the gap of the rapidly-increasing cost of vehicles today, but is a step in the right direction. No similar support is being offered to the quarter of people in our state that cannot or do not drive.
- There’s also $323.9 million, $91 million in electrification, to build two 144-car hybrid electric ferries and to convert a regular ferry to a hybrid electric model. Ferry’s are an important part of our transportation system, but are massively overbuilt for the purpose of transporting cars, not people, like highways. The average ferry-rider makes almost twice the state average income. State ferries are being subsidized by everyone at the cost of multiple billions despite serving less than one percent of the population that is disproportionately white, according to local researcher Bob Ortland.
- Not part of the Governor’s budget for climate, and not counted here, is potential highway investments with billions dedicated to highway expansions, working at odds with state goals to reduce vehicle miles traveled and emissions. These public investments would lock us into public infrastructure that has been at root of the environmental justice and climate crisis for decades, far into the future. This one step forward two steps back approach continues even while we increase spending for transit and climate.
There are some more aligned investments – investments that directly support lower income, communities of color, and worker transition, public transportation, and state capacity.
- There is $40 million from some state and mostly federal funding for weatherization and home health of low income households.
- Money for safe routes to school, transit, and non-monitored, total over $100 million, in the Governor’s budget, and from Democrat’s in the legislature a groundbreaking $4.3 billion in sidewalks, transit, and affordable public transportation
- There’s a climate workforce account with $24.8 million proposed.
- There’s also investments in capacity for the state government, from consulting with tribes to upgrading its own buildings and vehicles to enforcing building codes and standards. As of yet, there’s no direct support for community capacity to respond to changes in legislation or realize the change that’s needed on the ground.
Outside of the budget, there are driven policies being offered by legislators this year that put the responsibility where it belongs. Rather than subsidizing large corporate polluters, there are bills that shift the responsibility for harmful products back to the producers. In materials and waste management there’s the right to repair bill, packaged products producer responsibility bill, and one for batteries as well. There are hints of this in bills on climate with regard to buildings, an emphasis on setting standards on building owners and some attempts at tenant protections against raising rent, which have received pushback.
Front and Centered top legislative priorities are in transportation justice, by divesting from highways and fossil fuels and investing in public transportation and facilities, and energy justice, by protecting lowest income households from bearing the brunt of the energy transition. We are also shaping and supporting bills to require climate and carbon pollution reduction to local comprehensive planning through an environmental justice lens and tracking other bills that better position frontline communities to determine the Just Transition approach.
We will continue advocating for transformative policy, monitoring and holding accountable the Governor’s office and legislature for both policy and the process they use to get there. While we may win small battles to shift our economy off extractive resources, we are losing communities to displacement, life expectancy to air pollution, and our future to climate change. The solutions that will allow us to break from business as usual are those that are rooted in justice. We must temper the urge to put all our resources toward short term wins based on what is politically possible right now to illuminate the full potential of where we can go if we pull together for a truly Just Transition.