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Climate Change

Washington State Climate Policy Laws and Executive Orders
Policy Framework (2005-2010)

Washington has adopted a set of coordinated policies to grow our economy and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions in this state come from transportation (46%), electricity (20%), industrial sources (16%), residential and commercial buildings (9%), agriculture (6%) and waste (3%). The policies we have adopted will help the state meet its statutory greenhouse gas reduction targets and the Governor’s commitment to growing green jobs.



Greenhouse Gas Emissions Limits

  • State greenhouse gas emissions reduction limits in law. (RCW 70.235.020)
    • Return to 1990 levels by 2020
    • By 2035, reduce emissions to 25% below 1990 levels
    • By 2050, reduce emissions to 50% below 1990 levels.


Emissions Inventory and Reporting

  • Persons operating the following sources must report to the Department of Ecology their emissions of certain greenhouse gases (RCW 70.94.151 changed in 2010 (see 6373-S.SL)):
    • A single facility, source, or site that emits at least 10,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually in Washington; or
    • A supplier of liquid motor vehicle fuel, special fuel, or aircraft fuel that supplies products equivalent to at least 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually in Washington.
    • Department of Ecology, by December 31st of each even-numbered year beginning in 2010, must report to the governor and the appropriate committees of the senate and house of representatives the total emissions of greenhouse gases for the preceding two years, and totals in each major source sector. (RCW 70.235.020)


Creating Green Economy Jobs

  • Established a comprehensive green economy jobs growth initiative, Evergreen Jobs Initiative with the goal of, by 2020, increasing the number of green economy jobs to 25,000 from the 8,400 green economy jobs the state had in 2004. (RCW 43.330.310 and RCW 43.330.370)
  • Created a clean energy leadership council in collaboration with a private-public alliance focusing on growing Washington’s clean technology sector.
  • Authorize financing of the upfront costs of renewable energy and energy-efficiency improvement projects and establish the Sustainable Energy Trust Program. (RCW 43.180)
  • Promote forest products green industry growth. See Chapter 187, laws of 2019 (2420-S.SL amending RCW 43.330.310).
  • Created the Energy Freedom Program to provide financial support for the development of the bioenergy industry, promote clean energy, the development of bioenergy crops, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and innovative energy technology markets in Washington. (RCW 43.325)
  • Allow exemption from permitting requirements for anaerobic digester complying with specific conditions, to spur renewable energy development from agricultural waste. (RCW 70.95.330)


Reducing Emissions from Transportation

  • California “Clean Car” Greenhouse Gas Tailpipe Standards adopted in 2005. (RCW 70.120A.010). Changed in 2010 to exempt vehicles used by military personnel.
  • Minimum renewable fuel content requirements and fuel quality standards. (RCW 19.11.110, RCW 19.11.120)
  • Starting in 2010, new vehicles must disclose greenhouse gas emissions. (RCW 70.120A.050)
  • Electric vehicles planning and infrastructure provisions were enacted by Chapter 459 Law of 2009 and codified in several RCWs.
  • Department of Transportation is required to establish an alternative fuels corridor pilot project along I-5. (RCW 47.38.070)
  • Substitutes for ozone-depleting and high-global warming potential vehicle refrigerants are approved for use. (RCW 46.37.470)
  • Commute trip reduction program required from all large employers. (RCW 70.94.537)
  • Washington is the first state with statutory benchmarks for reducing vehicle miles travelled. (RCW 47.01.440)


Reducing Emissions from Electricity and Buildings

  • Department of Commerce is required to develop a state energy policy strategy that balances the goals of maintaining competitive energy prices, fostering clean energy economy and jobs and meeting the State’s obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (See 2658-S2.SL, Chapter 271 laws of 2010, Part IV sections 401-403)
  • Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937) sets energy conservation and renewable energy targets. Large utilities must acquire renewable resources like wind and solar to meet part of their electricity needs and must implement all cost-effective energy-efficiency measures. (RCW 19.285)
  • The State Energy Codes adopted from 2013 through 2031 must incrementally move towards achieving seventy percent reduction in annual net energy consumption for new residential and commercial buildings by 2031. (RCW 19.27A.160)
  • Department of commerce is required, by December 31, 2010, to develop and implement a strategic plan for enhancing energy efficiency in and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from homes, buildings, districts, and neighborhoods (RCW 19.27A.150). The strategic plan must be used to help direct the future code increases in RCW 19.27A.020. The strategic plan needs to identify barriers to achieving net zero energy use in homes and buildings and identify how to overcome these barriers in future energy code updates and through complementary policies.
  • High Performance Public Building Act requires all new and major renovated state-funded buildings over 5,000 square feet to meet green building standards, known as LEED Silver Certification. (RCW 39.35D.030)
  • The 2010 Supplemental Capital Budget section 1016 the Jobs Act for K-12 provides competitive grants to public school districts and higher education institutions for operational cost savings improvements to schools and higher education facilities and for related projects that result in energy and operational cost savings. An appropriation of $50 million was allocated to the Department of Commerce and another $50 million is provided to the Superintendent of Public Instruction (see section 5007).
  • The 2010 legislature enacted HB 2561, Chapter 35 Laws of 2010 referred to as the Jobs Act. It authorizes the State Finance Committee, composed of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and the State Treasurer, to issue general obligation bonds in the amount of $500 million. The bonds proceeds will be used to fund construction of energy savings improvements to public facilities. The Jobs Act Bonds is referred to a vote of Washington residents at the next general election.
  • Adopted more stringent efficiency standards for appliances and other products, such as ice makers, compressors and various lighting. (RCW 19.260.040)
  • All new electric generating resources, including those under long term contract, must meet a greenhouse gas emission performance standard. (RCW 80.80.040)
  • New fossil-fueled thermal generating facilities and existing facilities proposing to increase their capacity by fifteen percent are required to provide mitigation for twenty percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions produced by the facility. (RCW 80.70.020 (enacted in 2004)).
  • The Department of Commerce may create an appliance efficiency rebate program with available funds from the energy efficient appliances rebate program authorized under the federal energy policy act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58). (RCW 43.330.340)
  • Net metering required for all small renewable energy systems. (RCW 80.60)
  • Counties may enact “energy overlay zones” to facilitate siting of renewable energy projects based on feedstock availability, infrastructure and environmental impacts. Eligible technologies include biomass energy, mill waste, and landfill and wastewater treatment gas. (RCW 36.70C.020, RCW 36.70C.130)
  • Municipalities may aggregate energy audits and implement cost-effective energy conservation measures among multiple government entities. (RCW 43.19.691)


Helping Communities Save Energy and Reduce Emissions

  • Department of Commerce was required to develop by December 2009, for counties and cities, a range of advisory methodologies to estimate greenhouse gas emissions reductions resulting from specific activities and measures. (RCW 36.70A.580)
  • Pilot programs for community-wide energy efficiency upgrades must be implemented by Washington State University Extension Energy Program. (RCW 70.260.020)
  • Improved the low-income residential weatherization program by broadening the coverage of the program. (RCW 70.164 changed in 2010 (6468-S.SL)
  • Transfer of development rights program created to encourage new development in high-density areas. (RCW 43.362)
  • State Agencies financing infrastructure and economic development projects must take into consideration GHG emissions reduction goals and reduction in vehicle miles traveled. (RCW 70.235.070)
  • Properties in the Housing Trust Fund must be assessed for their energy efficiency and must be prioritized for energy efficiency funding. (RCW 43.185.140)
  • Promote compact high-density urban development by providing incentives to cities to adopt optional elements and regulations, prepare non-project environmental impact statement (EIS), establish a transfer development rights (TDR) program, collect fees to recover EIS cost, and receive 10 years immunity to SEPA appeals. (Chapter 153, Law of 2010)


State Agencies Reducing Emissions from their Operations

  • State agencies are required to quantify and reduce their carbon footprint to achieve state agency’s mandatory targets. (RCW 70.235.050 and RCW 70.235.060)
  • State agencies are required to establish policies and implement a fuel economy standard for acquisition, operation, and authorized use of state vehicles as well as develop strategies to reduce fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. (RCW 43.41.130)
  • Certain state agencies must meet building energy performance standards that are benchmarked to national standards and report on their performance. Agencies that fail to meet the standards must perform a preliminary energy audit and implement cost-effective energy conservation measures by July 1, 2016. (RCW 19.27A.190)
  • Agencies must reduce current paper use, increase paper recycling, purchase 100 percent recycled content paper, and set up conservation and recycling program. (RCW 70.95.725)
  • The Department of Transportation must develop a joint comprehensive commute trip reduction plan for all state agencies sites located in the Olympia, Lacey, and Tumwater urban growth area. (RCW 70.94.551)
  • Effective June 1, 2013, all state agencies and local governments are required to satisfy 40% of their fuel usage for publicly owned vessels, vehicles, and construction equipment with electricity or biofuel. By June 1, 2015, 100% these fuel needs are to be met by electricity or biofuel, to the extent practicable. (RCW 43.19.648)
  • After June 15, 2010, state agencies must, when purchasing new petroleum-based fuel vehicles for vehicle fleets: (a) achieve an average fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon for light duty passenger vehicles; and (b) achieve an average fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon for light duty vans and sports utility vehicles; or (c) purchase ultra-low carbon fuel vehicles. Some vehicles are excluded. (Substitute House bill 3105, Chapter 159, Laws of 2010)
  • State agencies must develop strategies and recommendations for reducing the number of miles that each employee drives. (RCW 70.94.551)
  • State must install electrical outlets capable of charging electric vehicles in each of the state's fleet parking and maintenance facilities. (RCW 43.19.648)


Preparing for and Adapting to Climate Change

  • Comprehensive assessment of the impacts of climate change on Washington State was conducted by the Climate Impacts Group with the University of Washington under the 2008 Cleaner Energy Act, Chapter 19.285.
  • Established a voluntary pilot local government global warming mitigation and adaptation program through June 30, 2010 for up to three counties and six cities. (RCW 36.70A.5801)
  • Ecology and other state agencies are required by December 2011, to develop a response strategy to assist the state and local governments in preparing for and adapting to impacts from climate change. (Chapter 43.21M)
  • All state agencies must strive to incorporate adaptation plans of action as priority activities when planning or designing agency policies and programs. Agencies must consider the integrated climate change response strategy when designing, planning, and funding infrastructure projects; and incorporating natural resource adaptation actions and alternative energy sources when designing and planning infrastructure projects. (RCW 43.21M.040)


Financing and Tax Incentives:



Executive Orders

  • EO 07-02 Washington Climate Change Challenge: This order, signed in February 2007, established goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs and reducing fuels spending. It was the basis for creating the Climate Advisory Team to recommend ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also directed the state to assess steps required to prepare for the impacts of climate change on water supply, public health, agriculture, forestry and coastal areas.
  • EO 09-05 Washington’s Leadership on Climate Change: This order, signed in May 2009, requires the state to:
    • Develop emission reduction strategies to help meet the state’s statutory greenhouse gas reduction limits.
    • Develop industry emission benchmarks.
    • Work with TransAlta to reduce by more than half the emissions from the company’s coal-fired power plant near Centralia.
    • Develop forestry offset protocols and financial incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the forestry sector.
    • Recommend how to implement a low carbon fuel standard or alternative measures to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fuels.
    • Join with other West Coast states and the private sector to develop and implement a “West Coast Green Highway” that supports electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.
    • Develop additional strategies to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.
    • Work with the five largest metropolitan planning organizations to increase transit options.
    • Prepare for rising sea levels and the risks to water supplies caused by climate change impacts.


Other Important GHG Reduction Policies Enacted Prior to 2005

  • Voluntary green power purchase option required of all large electric utilities. (RCW 19.29A.090)
  • Integrated resource plan or resource plan required biennially of all state’s electric utilities. (RCW 19.280)
  • Fuel mix disclosure to customers required for all electric utilities. (RCW 19.29A.060)
  • Municipalities are authorized to negotiate performance-based energy contracts with energy service contractors. (RCW 39.35A)