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More Climate-Related Legislation for 2021

More Climate-Related Legislation for 2021

The 2021 Washington State Legislative Session produced a suite of ambitious climate-related bills, some of which are covered in 2021 Climate-Related Legislative Outcomes.

This blog covers additional bills, which, when taken together, reflect legislative priorities to reduce waste and pollution and expand the use of non-carbon-based fuels.

Regulating Certain Greenhouse Gases

HB 1050 increases the regulation of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are greenhouse gases commonly used in a wide variety of applications, including refrigeration, air-conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols. The legislature first regulated HFCs in 2019, but this legislation goes a step farther by officially designating them as an ozone-depleting substance.

The Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) adopted a rule (Chapter 173-443 WAC, Hydrofluorocarbons) in December 2019 to transition away from using HFCs in products and equipment. HB 1050 now directs Ecology to set a maximum global warming potential threshold for HFCs used in new stationary air conditioning equipment, new and existing stationary refrigeration equipment, and in ice rinks; create a program to manage emissions from large air conditioning and refrigeration equipment; and recommend how to safely manage and dispose of refrigerants.

The bill also requires the Washington State Building Code Council to develop new standards allowing substitutes for HFCs with lower global warming potential than HFCs.

Greener Takeout

SB 5022 bans the manufacture, sale, and distribution of certain expanded polystyrene products (also known as Styrofoam), including packing peanuts, foam plastic coolers, and foodware (i.e., cups, plate, bowls, and clamshell containers) by June 2024. With this bill, Washington is the seventh state in the U.S. to ban polystyrene foam food containers and the first to ban foam plastic coolers.

It also forbids food establishments from automatically including single-use utensils, cups, lids, and condiments in carry-out orders. Instead, a customer must request the additional items, or the food establishment can put them out on a counter for self-service.

SB 5022 also requires all plastic containers for beverages, household cleaning products, personal care products, and trash bags sold in Washington contain up to 50% post-consumer recycled content by 2031.

Addressing Climate Issues in Local Comp Plans

As part of the 2021 legislative session, the legislature issued a budget proviso that appropriates more than $3 million over the next two years to support the Department of Commerce (Commerce) in developing guidelines to help cities and counties integrate mitigation and resiliency goals into local comprehensive plans.

While comprehensive plans have been required for certain cities and counties under the Growth Management Act (GMA) for several decades, climate is not a targeted area of GMA planning. To assist local jurisdictions in addressing this important topic, Commerce will create model elements to help local jurisdictions. The first will provide a set of actions counties and cities may take, under existing statutory authority, that have a demonstrated ability to reduce per-capita vehicle miles traveled and thus, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so could help the state achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions set forth in RCW 70A.45.020(1).

Commerce will also create a model climate change and resiliency element that provides guidance to cities, counties, multiple-county planning regions on:

  • identifying, designing, and investing in infrastructure that supports community resilience to climate impacts;
  • identifying and addressing natural hazards created or aggravated by climate change;
  • promoting related benefits of climate resilience (e.g., salmon recovery); and
  • prioritizing actions in communities that will disproportionately suffer from compounding environmental impacts.

Model elements are due by June 30, 2023. For more information about this initiative, contact Sarah Fox.

Lower Requirements for Rideshare Vehicles

Small car owners now might be able to offer an official rideshare thanks to HB 1514. This bill reduced the required rideshare minimums from five to three total riders, including the driver, and eliminates weight and trip requirements originally found in RCW 46.74.010.

In 1991, the Washington State Legislature passed the Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) law, which requires big private and public employers (those with more than 100 workers who work at a single worksite and begin work between 6 and 9 a.m. on two or more weekdays for at least 12 continuous months) to implement programs that work to reduce the number and length of drive-alone commute trips.

Employers develop and maintain worksite-based CTR programs while the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) provides technical assistance, staffs the CTR Board, maintains CTR data that employers can use for program planning, and develops statewide CTR policies and practices.

Rideshare is one of several tools the state has encouraged workplaces to offer as part of a CTR program, alongside other approaches such as free transit passes or telecommute options. Further, any vehicle purchased primarily to be operated as a rideshare is eligible for certain tax exemptions and tax credits and license plates associated with ride sharing.

Alternative Fuels Promoted

SB 5000 creates an eight-year statewide pilot project for the reduction of sales tax on purchases of hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicles — like the reduced sales taxes that buyers of plug-in electric vehicles enjoy. SB 5000 will allow a total of 650 vehicles to receive a 50% sales tax exemption in fiscal years 2023 through 2029.

Hydrogen fuel cells create electricity through a chemical reaction between the hydrogen fuel and oxygen in the air. Like electric batteries, hydrogen fuel produces zero emissions, but unlike batteries, they do not need to be recharged. Proponents of hydrogen fuel tout this as a green replacement for diesel and gasoline, and some transit agencies, such as TriMet in Portland, are considering it as part of a suite of options when looking to phase out vehicles that use carbon-based fuels (i.e., unleaded gas, diesel).

However, the technology is comparatively more expensive than existing battery electric and/or diesel bus technology, and the infrastructure needed to support large scale adoption, such as a network of fueling stations, is just barely starting to develop.

To help address this infrastructure need, in 2019 the legislature approved Senate Bill 5588, which authorizes public utility districts to produce and sell renewable hydrogen to facilities that condense or dispense natural gas or renewable hydrogen for use as a motor fuel.

In March of this year, the Douglas County Public Utility District used this authority and broke ground on a green hydrogen production facility near Wenatchee, and in September, the Chehalis Daily Chronicle reported on a new memorandum of understanding between the Port of Chehalis and Chehalis-based Twin Transit to construct a hydrogen fuel station on port property. The hope is that the station will open by October 2022, and in 2023, Twin Transit will receive a small fleet of buses equipped with hydrogen fuel cells.

Standardizing Electric Vehicle Chargers

Any driver of an electric vehicle (EV) traveling through this state has faced the dizzying array of public or privately owned EV chargers, some that require a card and/or account to operate, some that offer only certain types of chargers, as well as the challenges of finding a fast charger, which operates at the quickest rate of charge. SB 5192 would like to see all that change to a more standardized experience for the electric car owner. The bill:

  • Requires electric vehicle service providers to clearly disclose the costs of using publicly available EV chargers;
  • Requires the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), in consultation with Commerce and the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission, to adopt rules for certain publicly available EV chargers regarding payment methods, interoperability, and the sale of electricity as a vehicle fuel; and  
  • Establishes registration fees and penalties related to EV chargers.

The WSDA has established a rulemaking site under Chapter 16-662 WAC and held several meetings to receive stakeholder input. WSDA must adopt rules by January 1, 2023.

Solar Panel Recycling Deadlines Delayed

The Washington Photovoltaic (PV) Module Stewardship and Takeback Program (Program), first passed in 2017, requires solar PV manufacturers to finance the takeback and recycling of panels at no cost to their owners. HB 1393 delays certain program implementation dates for another two years.

Stewardship models seek to minimize the environmental impacts of a product by making the manufacturer responsible for its full life cycle, and our state has required it for several items, from fluorescent and other mercury-containing lights, to electronics, paint, and even medication. However, only Washington and California have passed legislation requiring PV takeback and recycling.

The Program calls for the recycling of residential solar panels as well as those used in large-scale utility projects, like solar farms. The challenge with recycling solar panels is primarily tied up in not damaging the critical semiconductor layer during the process of taking apart the panel. This makes the recycling process difficult and time-consuming and, as a result, far more costly than simply throwing out the panel.

HB 1393 delays original implementation dates and now requires manufacturers (or a designated organization) to submit stewardship plans to the Ecology by July 1, 2024, and to submit a report on implementation and results of these plans by April 1, 2026.

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About Leah LaCivita

Leah joined MRSC as a Communications Coordinator in the fall of 2016 and manages MRSC’s blog and webinar training program, in addition to developing website content.