OLYMPIA — Washington Senate Democrats voted March 5 to make the state carbon-neutral by 2050, following the state House in embracing the aspiration of the Green New Deal.
Washington will cut carbon emissions to 5 million metric tons, or about 5% of the state's output in 1990, according to the measure. Remaining emissions must be offset by projects to store carbon.
The net-zero carbon standard mirrors the goal and timeframe of the federal resolution introduced last year in the U.S. House by New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and in the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey.
Washington Democrats said the state bill was necessary because of a climate crisis and the need to protect future generations.
"We are the true global leader addressing climate pollution, and we need to adjust our pollution limits to reflect updated science," said Sen. Mona Das, D-Covington, who introduced the measure in the Senate.
The bill, introduced at the request of Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, passed 28-21 along party lines. The bill sets interim benchmark reductions of 45% by 2030 and 75% by 2040.
The bill does not set carbon-reduction policies. However, other legislation could be based on achieving a carbon-neutral economy.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said the legislation might cut carbon emissions in Washington, but not globally as businesses leave for other states.
"When you can no longer manufacture things here, when electricity is too expensive, when you ban natural gas, you will see a (carbon) reduction in Washington state, and that's how you will meet your goal, and it will serve no purpose," he said.
Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to shield the state from lawsuits if the carbon-reduction standard is not met.
Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Senate Environment Committee, said the amendment wasn't necessary.
"There's no insinuation or assumption whatsoever in any element of this legislation, even implying this is anything other than statewide goals," he said.
Ericksen referred to how the bill describes the state's obligation to cut greenhouse gases. "If you look at the text of the legislation, it says 'shall,'" he said. "'Shall' would be a mandate: 'Yes, you have to do it.'"
Democrats also voted down a GOP amendment to adjust emission limits for population growth and to require state agencies to cut their emissions at the same rate as the general economy.
The carbon-neutral edict revises a goal the Legislature set in 2007 and them turned into a mandate the following year that committed the state to a 50% carbon reduction by 2050.
At least 15 states and Puerto Rico have adopted laws mandating carbon-emission limits, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Washington's limit of 5 million metric tons will be among the more ambitious. In 2017, the most recent figures available, the the state emitted the equivalent of 97.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases from livestock, decomposing manure and fertilized fields totaled 6.4 million metric tons that year, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.