Washington state rang in the New Year with the launch of its most ambitious plan to slash carbon pollution. The new “cap-and-invest” program is designed to follow in the footsteps of California, where a cap-and-trade system began in 2013, while trying to learn from its missteps.
Signed into law by Washington Governor Jay Inslee in 2021, the Climate Commitment Act works by setting a statewide “cap” on greenhouse gas emissions that steadily lowers over time. Washington, like California, is establishing a market for businesses to buy pollution “allowances” that will become increasingly expensive — an incentive to cut emissions and a way to raise money to counter climate change.
The first auction to sell off these allowances is scheduled at the end of February, and if all goes according to plan, Washington’s emissions will drop to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, an even steeper cut than California’s, which aims for an 80 percent reduction by the same year.
“We see the Climate Commitment Act as the new gold standard for climate policy across the nation,” said Kelly Hall, the Washington director for the regional nonprofit Climate Solutions, which helped shape the legislation. “The policy not only ensures that we reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with what science requires, but that equity and environmental justice are also foundational to the law.”
It’s the most recent example of a blue state putting a price tag on carbon dioxide, a longtime goal of climate advocates that has come with controversy. Last year, Oregon instituted a cap-and-trade system via executive order from former Governor Kate Brown after years of failed bills — including two attempts thwarted by Republican state senators going into hiding to