2021 legislative priorities

The Washington state capitol building from the outside. The rotunda is front and center. Cherry blossoms are in the foreground.

In the 2021 legislative session, we focused on supporting policies that addressed climate change and environmental justice.

The Legislature passed a number of bills that advance our environmental mission and give us new responsibilities. We also received additional resources to implement this new work, and continue to protect and preserve Washington’s environment.

Climate change

The 2021 legislative session saw historic progress in Washington's efforts to combat climate change and prepare our state for the future low-carbon economy. Three major climate bills passed in the session:  Climate Commitment Act, Clean Fuel Standard, and Hydrofluorocarbons.

Climate Commitment Act

The Climate Commitment Act (Senate Bill 5126) establishes a comprehensive program to cap greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, gradually reduce that carbon pollution, while investing in climate resiliency, clean transportation, and reducing the disproportionate burdens pollution places on some of our state's communities. 

Under the Climate Commitment Act, Washington has a path to meet the greenhouse gas emission limits set in RCW 70A.45.020 and invest in a more sustainable future for Washington.

The Climate Commitment Act will:

  • Require Ecology to establish a program to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitting sources consistent with the emission limits set in state law.
  • Invest in community and ecosystem resilience to the effects of climate change.
  • Prioritize investments that advance equity and environmental justice and put these concepts at the center of climate action.
  • Senate Bill 5126 information page

Washington has enacted strong, science-based greenhouse gas limits, but the state has never put in place a comprehensive means to achieve them. The latest research shows that we must reduce carbon pollution more deeply and quickly than previously thought to protect the state from the worst effects of climate change.

In Washington, climate change poses severe economic and environmental threats to coastlines, water supplies, forests, farms, and communities. Residents of Washington already feel the effects of climate change — but these burdens are not distributed evenly. Vulnerable populations and overburdened communities have historically experienced disproportionate economic and health costs from pollution, extreme heat, and other climate-related stressors. These disparities are likely to grow without aggressive action to limit the impacts of climate change.

To moderate the threat of climate change, reduce its enormous economic burden and ecosystem damage, and make the state resilient to future impacts, Washington needs a comprehensive system to cap and then predictably and equitably reduce carbon pollution to meet the greenhouse gas emission limits set by the Legislature.

Kathy Taylor
Program Manager
Air Quality Program

Clean Fuel Standard

Transportation is the largest category of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for about 45% of our state's total emissions. The Clean Fuel Standard is an important tool to cut these emissions by gradually reducing the carbon intensity of transportation fuels. In Washington, implementing a Clean Fuel Standard is estimated to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 million metric tons a year by 2030. With the new law, Washington joins California, Oregon, and British Columbia – which all have clean fuel standards in place.

The Clean Fuel Standard will:

  • Require Ecology to adopt rules to implement a Clean Fuel Standard by 2023.
  • Require fuel producers to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels 20% below 2017 levels by 2038.
  • House Bill 1091 information page

Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, accounting for almost 45% of total emissions. Reducing these emissions is essential if we are to prevent the damaging effects climate change will have on Washington's coastlines, water supplies, forests, farms, and communities. Research shows that there are ample supplies of qualifying cleaner fuels in Washington that can help the state meet the requirements of the Clean Fuel Standard.

Kathy Taylor
Program Manager
Air Quality Program


Hydrofluorocarbon transition

House Bill 1050 expands on a law passed in 2019 that phases out many uses of the potent global warming chemicals called hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. These chemicals are used in refrigeration, insulating foams, and as propellants. Collectively, they account for about 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Washington, a level that is expected to rise without action to switch to safer alternatives.

House Bill 1050 will:

  • Direct Ecology to establish a refrigerant management program to address leaks or other emissions from large air conditioning units and refrigeration equipment.
  • Authorize Ecology to establish a maximum global warming potential threshold for HFCs used in new air conditioning and refrigeration units, and in refrigeration systems for ice rinks. 
  • Require Ecology to provide recommendations to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2021, on a program to address the end-of-life management and disposal of HFC-containing refrigerants.
  • Establish a state purchasing and procurement preference for recycled refrigerants.
  • House Bill 1050 information page

HFCs are powerful global warming chemicals, contributing hundreds or thousands of times the impact of carbon dioxide. Even with the 2019 law that phased out many major uses of HFCs in Washington, these chemicals can still leak from existing equipment, or escape when equipment is damaged or discarded. 

Kathy Taylor
Program Manager
Air Quality Program

Environmental justice

In 2021, lawmakers took a step to eliminate the environmental and health disparities in communities of color, indigenous communities, and economically-disadvantaged communities. Washington now has a path to environmental justice.

Healthy Environment for All Act (HEAL Act)

The Healthy Environment for All Act puts environmental justice considerations squarely at the heart of decision-making for Ecology and other state agencies. It makes an environmental justice assessment part of the agency review process, much like an environmental impact review is part of many permitting and development decisions.

The HEAL Act will:

  • Require state agencies (including Ecology, Health, Natural Resources, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership) to conduct environmental justice assessments as part of their decision-making process.
  • Require Ecology to write procedures to guide these environmental justice assessments, meaningfully engage with overburdened communities and underserved populations, and establish protocols for tribal consultation.
  • Incorporate these assessments into budget decisions.
  • Establish an Environmental Justice Council to advise agencies on their work.
  • Senate Bill 5141 information page

Pollution affects everyone in Washington, but it doesn't affect all of us equally. Certain communities bear a disproportionate burden from air and water pollution, and from the toxic legacy of historic contamination. Environmental justice seeks to identify these disparities and take steps to address them, giving every resident of our state a healthy home.The HEAL Act is a landmark policy that will make environmental justice an integral part of the way our state does business. It will bring a greater focus and additional resources to the communities most affected by pollution.

Millie Piazza
Senior Advisor
Environmental Justice and Title VI