Location

Washington, USA

Key Concepts

Budget amendment

Active Campaign

Washington State has emerged as a hotbed of carbon removal / greenhouse gas removal policy activity, led by local grassroots advocates under the umbrella of PACLEAN (Pacific Coast Legacy Emissions Action Network),and energized by a thriving CDR startup and investment ecosystem.

Summary

Washington State is often overshadowed by it’s Pacific Coast peer California when it comes to implementing aggressive, high impact climate and environmental policy. But the Evergreen State has punched well above its weight for years in this area, with a series of significant legislative and budgetary actions, most notably the passage of the Climate Commitment Act (CCA) in 2021. The CCA introduces an economy-wide net-zero target, a cap-and-trade program, and revenue allocations for a range of emissions reductions activities.

In 2023 greenhouse gas removal (GGR) projects were made eligible for new innovation grants that will be awarded under the CCA-funded Clean Energy Fund Program via an amendment to the state’s annual capital budget. The budget was approved by both chambers of the state legislature in April 2023, before being signed by the governor the following month. At the time of the CCA’s passage in 2021, GGR was not included within the scope of the CCA.

The total pool of annual funding available for all projects is $12 million, and is projected to be reauthorized for multiple years with annual funding limits dependent on annual revenues gained from the CCA cap-and-trade program. Eligible projects must involve “strategic research, development and/or demonstration” of new and emerging technologies.

The budget amendment concerning GGR was put in force with the addition of a single four-word phrase found on one page of the 472-page capital budget:

$12,000,000 of the appropriation in the section is provided solely for grants for strategic research, development, and demonstration of new and emerging clean energy generation and storage technologies and climate change mitigation technologies, including greenhouse gas removal. Grants awarded under this subsection must reduce reliance on fossil fuels, reduce risk of irregularities in power supply, offer opportunities for economic and job growth, and strengthen technology supply chains. Grant funds are intended to catalyze diverse new technologies that change production, use, storage, and transportation of energy. The department may provide funding to projects at various stages of readiness, including early stage research, pilot and demonstration projects, and dual use projects that produce clean energy and additional benefits.

Administration of the program will be carried out by the Washington State Department of Commerce beginning in the second half of 2024. The Department is currently in the process of formulating rules and guidelines concerning funding limits, per awarded project, and competitive selection criteria.

Politics Note

While the actual language of the budget amendment concerning greenhouse gas removal was certainly inconspicuous in form - just four words in a document containing more than 130,000 - the implications of its inclusion are deceptively significant. Further, the successful advocacy effort mounted by grassroots volunteers to get it included was remarkable for its eleventh hour effectiveness, and offers an important lesson on how striking the right targets, at the right time, can carry the day when advocates embrace an opportunistic, move-the-needle strategy. The proposal to include GGR in the budget surfaced very late in the budget negotiation process, just two months before the end of the legislative session, making this win highly improbable in hindsight, given the relative novelty of topic as an object of state policy. A small group of no more than ten volunteers associated with the OpenAir Collective, ¬†the Foundation for Climate Restoration and AirMiners ¬†formed the Pacific Coast Legacy Emissions Action Network, or PACLEAN in early 2023, when the session was already underway. Shortly after formation, when it became clear that any window of opportunity for introducing new legislation during the current session had closed, the group pivoted to explore potential last minute avenues for impact through the spring budget negotiation process. After shifting to this course, the group worked closely with a professional lobbyist to engage with and educate multiple ranking legislators in both chambers of the legislature in the waining weeks of the budget period, which proved just enough time to succeed. Their success can certainly be attributed to their dogged commitment and savvy negotiation of a complex, highly fluid political process. But the outcome also had much to do with favorable political conditions in Olympia at the time of their barnstorm campaign. The advocates encountered little resistance to their argument that removals would be necessary to achieve the goals of the state's CCA law, and generally found a high degree of sympathy, and even enthusiasm, in high places. Indeed, the advocates discovered an obscure earlier law, pre-dating the CCA, that had already established carbon / greenhouse gas removal as a priority of the state, and this precedent was leveraged effectively as a "hook" by the advocates to make their case. It is worth noting that this level of awareness of GGR among state lawmakers, and the absence of controversy surrounding the subject, is far from common in the U.S. context at present - even in climate forward states such as California and New York. In a number of ways, PACLEAN's experience is instructive for other advocates. First, it demonstrates the importance of strategic opportunism, and embracing a view that narrow, limited victories today can open doors for more ambitious future policy goals. The advocates could have waited another year or two, and entered the 2024 or 2025 session with a more ambitious, comprehensive stand-alone bill - the likes of California's SB 308, or Massachusetts S.2096. However, by instead taking their shot with the window of time and resources they had in 2023 they managed to rapidly introduce removals into the political bloodstream, and to complete a good deal of necessary heavy lifting around general education and awareness building among key legislators. Progress in this critical area can now be leveraged for future campaigns, with a baseline of familiarity established, and a clear precedent of state support now in the books. And the process of mounting this campaign has helped PACLEAN establish its brand with lawmakers, and recruit new members, which will add to its influence in subsequent sessions. Indeed, PACLEAN is now on the brink of parlaying this initial victory into yet another more significant win during the 2024 budget period, having succeeded in getting another $300,000 request into the current budget being negotiated that will fund a comprehensive study of GGR potential in the state. This success, should it remain in the final budget signed by the governor, will open up yet more doors for additional policy proposals.