For my final project, I visited Olympia to meet with my district (46th) representative Jessyn Farrell, and to attend the legislative session that same afternoon. Being that Representative Farrell is actively involved with several environmental related bills, and is the Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee, I found several bills that she had either primarily or secondarily sponsored that piqued my interest, as well as related closely to class discussions. I ended up focusing on HB 1144, currently having undergone 2 substitutes, which focuses on greenhouse gas emission limits “for consistency with the most recent assessment of climate change science” and amending RCW 70.235.020. The amendments focus on to what degree the State of Washington will decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. RCW 70.235.020 currently reads that emissions will be reduced 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. The proposed amendments will increase those targets to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Further amendments require strict reporting of per capita greenhouse gas emissions and total greenhouse gas emissions as compared to other states. Further, the commerce “department shall survey the agencies of state government to determine each agency’s annual expenditures made during the biennium to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support the achievement of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals identified in this section, as well as each agency’s annual reduction of greenhouse gases during the biennium, and shall include that information in its report, along with a tabulation of the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions reductions undertaken by each agency.” Lastly, the amendment would include that the Department of Natural Resources report on the amount of carbon dioxide released by forest fires, and to promote active fire prevention such as thinning and prescribed burning.
I was not so interested in changing the language of the bill, but was more interested in how Representative Farrell and the other sponsors concluded that those numbers should be changed so drastically. Has Washington been especially effective in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions that lawmakers now think we can set more aggressive goals? Or does the evolving climate science simply demand that we more dramatically diminish emissions?
Before heading to Olympia, I spoke several times with Nigel Herbig, Representative Farrell’s assistant, who was very helpful in coordinating my visit. He encouraged me to come on the 8th because the legislature would be in session, therefore allowing me some time to watch the proceedings, and that Representative Farrell would be available to come out and speak with me for a few minutes that afternoon. Mr. Herbig was very adamant, however, that he had “no idea” how the day would progress, what would be discussed on the floor, and if the Republicans “would be filibustering” all day.
I arrived around one o’clock in the afternoon on the 8th and was happy to find the legislature in session. The session was not all that entertaining, as I had no background on the bills being commented on, but could follow along (somewhat) by following proceedings online (which Nigel encouraged). After 45 minutes to an hour, I asked security if they would be kind enough to notify Representative Farrell that a constituent of hers was in attendance and that I would like to speak to her for a minute or two. I was surprised by how quickly she met my request, and I met with her for 3-5 minutes in the foyer. I introduced herself, and told her about my studies at the UW. I was then able to ask her opinion of HB 1144 and how she saw the amendments progressing, and whether she thought we could meet the thresholds outlined. Representative Farrell was extremely positive and optimistic about the changes, and although she felt Washington has been a thought leader in climate change, she maybe felt more strongly that the bill amendments were out of necessity, not simply because we were so far ahead of current goals. She emphasized the need for private industry to be more accountable, and for a more uniform way of accounting for, and reporting, climate impacts. The amendments are currently in House Committee and will need to be specifically funded through the appropriations act by June 30, otherwise the bill will be void.
Out of curiosity, I also quickly asked about the cell phone handling bill that passed the House the previous day, a bill for which Representative Farrell as a sponsor and vocal supporter. The bill prohibits any handling of cell phones in cars, which Representative Farrell felt was an extremely urgent issue, and could go a long way in preventing fatal and non-fatal auto accidents across the state. A similar bill passed the Senate, so a joint bill must be agreed upon and passed before being enacted possibly late this year or early next year.
After my meeting, I took in another 30 minutes or so of the session before making my way back to Green Lake. Through this experience, I learned more about the legislative process than I originally thought I might. I knew it was no easy task to pass a bill, but after understanding more about the sponsors, substitutes, amendments, committees, votes, etc. I’m surprised anything can get passed through. Regarding the bill HB 1144, I was not too surprised to hear Representative Farrell’s responses about the need to limit our climate impact. I did, however, find it fascinating that her emphasis on accounting and reporting of emissions was directly in line with our class discussion on frameworks and systems of measurement. Without a unified way to report emissions, types of emissions, sources and costs of emissions, it makes it exceedingly difficult to come up with a plan to reduce them. So to me, in many cases it seems, there may be more of a problem in holding people to account for their emissions more so than getting emissions reduced.
Overall, I came away excited and motivated by my trip to Olympia, and maybe more motivated by the willingness of my Representative to take a few minutes out of her jam-packed day to meet with me. Given the relative ease of the experience, I won’t hesitate to contact my lawmakers in the future, and if they are all as receptive as Representative Farrell, it is not out of reason to think my input could make a difference in the outcomes of future bills.