by Edgar Franks and Eddy Ury
Last summer, Whatcom County saw firsthand the consequences of a changing climate: Wildfire smoke shrouded and choked the region while salmon died in shallowing rivers. Yet Washington State’s legislature failed to pass meaningful climate legislation this year, despite strong and well-supported efforts. As the U.S. government turns its back on the world and denies the reality of climate change, climate change and ocean acidification are jeopardizing the health of Washington’s people and economy that depend on natural resources. That’s why the people of Washington are moving forward with Initiative 1631, the Protect Washington Act. Our initiative will clean our air and create good paying jobs by making investments in clean energy infrastructure, healthy forests, and clean water. From a pollution-fee paid by large corporate polluters, funds will accelerate Washington State’s transition to clean energy, increase the resiliency of the state’s waters and forests to the impacts of climate change, and reduce the impacts of climate change on communities.
Decades of pollution have left us with a great mess, and it’s time for all of us to help clean up. With the help of I-1631, we can have the tools to do the job right. By making the largest polluters pay a fee for their climate pollution, we can fund projects that protect the air we breathe and water we drink, build clean energy infrastructure like wind and solar, and create good-paying local jobs. We can invest in local communities, building a more resilient economy.
Justice and Equity at the Forefront
Climate change is happening now. We can’t wait to act any longer. Yet we also must ensure that our solutions to climate change are fair and equitable, that they do not overburden those who are already harmed disproportionately by pollution: communities of color, working class and low-income households, migrant workers, and the houseless. When crafting solutions to this shared problem of pollution, justice and equity must be at the forefront. That means listening to the voices of those who are impacted. It is imperative that indigenous rights and tribal sovereignty are always respected and upheld. Real solutions must also ensure protections for workers in all industries during this transition — from refineries to farms.
I-1631 is proposed by The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a coalition of 200 Washington organizations and individuals committed to building our state’s economy, improving the health of our residents, and leading in the fight against climate change. We came together to find solutions that work for all of us: especially those from communities on the frontlines of impacts, who have historically been excluded from decisions about the environment and economy. Our board of governance and steering committee are round tables where everyone has a say. Farmworkers, people of faith, labor organizers, environmental advocates, health professionals, and more came together around the same table to create a policy that reflects our shared values — a healthy environment and a vibrant economy that works for everyone. We recognized that past initiatives had isolated and divided us, and that producing the right policy for Washington would require that impacted stakeholders are represented and included in the process, every step of the way.
Investing to Protect Washington
We’re moving forward together now. Initiative 1631 will create the investment we need for clean energy, clean air, clean water and healthy forests, while safeguarding communities from the impacts of climate change during the energy transition. By making large corporations pay a fee for their pollution, we can redirect billions of dollars into local economies across the state, improving the quality of our air and water while creating lasting, living-wage jobs.
Investment areas include expanding renewable energy, efficiency, clean transportation options, and carbon sequestration. Investments will also restore and protect estuaries, fisheries and marine shoreline habitats, reduce flood risk, increase sustainable supply of water; improve infrastructure for treating stormwater, and address sea-level rise and ocean acidification. We’ll help improve forest health, reduce vulnerability to insect infestations, and enhance preparedness for wildfires. Dedicated funds will assist low-income residents in the transition to a clean energy economy, and provide support for workers that are affected by the transition. A minimum of ten percent of expenditures will be directly for projects endorsed or administered by the governments of sovereign indigenous nations. Strong public oversight is clearly laid out in the initiative language to ensure accountability for good investments.
Local Hub Supports Volunteers
Here in Whatcom County, local Alliance partners include Community to Community (C2C), RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, the NW Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), Riveters Collective, 350 Bellingham, Stand.earth, Safeguard the Southfork, Jobs with Justice, and Mt Baker Sierra Club.
Through ballot initiatives to the people, Washington voters have forged the way for other states before on progressive policies. Now we’re setting the course for equitable climate policy in the United States. To do that, our broad-based coalition is launching our campaign with thousands of volunteers across the state ready to gather signatures. But we face challenges along the road to victory at the ballot this November: Big Oil won’t go down without a fight, and we’ll need more volunteers and a sustained effort to win in November.
You can join our movement! Visit: jobscleanenergywa.com to learn more, get launch information, and to get involved in our signature-gathering campaign.
Edgar Franks is the civic engagement program coordinator at Community to Community Development. Eddy Ury is the clean energy program manager at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.