By State Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, Sam Cho, Port of Seattle Commissioner, and Rich Stolz, Executive Director of OneAmerica
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Our country is in the midst of a long overdue reckoning with racial injustices and systemic inequality. While those issues have finally moved to the front of our collective focus, environmental justice and impacts of pollution and climate change on communities of color still need much greater attention.
Our long dependence on fossil fuels has left too many Washingtonians impacted by pollution that has compromised the quality of their lives. Right now, legislators in Olympia are considering House Bill 1091 which establishes a clean fuel standard and gives Washingtonians the chance to choose cleaner fuels and to rectify generations of inequality by confronting a changing climate that disproportionately impacts economically disadvantaged and minority communities. Paired with other priority environmental justice proposals like the HEAL Act (Senate Bill 5141), we have an opportunity to make real progress, improving the lives of our neighbors across Washington. We cannot miss this opportunity to deliver genuine emission reduction to our at-risk communities.
Transportation is our state’s largest source of carbon emissions, as the transportation activity from a growing economy emits climate-changing greenhouse gases and associated toxic air pollution.
These emissions accelerate the pace of climate change, but not because drivers, shippers, or commuters on the bus are in favor of more pollution. The vast majority of Washingtonians understand the dangers of climate change and air pollution and want to take action to address it.
According to a 2019 study led by the University of Washington air pollution can accelerate lung disease as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Zoom that study lens into communities in South King County near freeway interchanges and airport runways and you can easily see the pattern of disparate impact. Take the 37th Legislative District which runs along I-5 in South Seattle to roughly the I-405 interchange, where people of color make up 61 percent of the population. It’s no surprise that the incidence of cancer there is 148 percent of the state average and cardiovascular deaths are 127 percent of the state average. The residents of that area are bearing the brunt of harmful diesel emissions that are 670 percent of the state average.
A pattern of low incomes and high minority populations living with diminished air quality from transportation emissions repeats itself across Washington. Physicians for Social Responsibility found that Tacoma residents and especially children living near the freeway are exposed to more asthma triggers than the average Tacoma resident. And a University of Washington study, co-funded by the Port of Seattle, found that “Communities underneath and downwind of jets landing at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are exposed to a type of ultrafine particle pollution distinctly associated with aircraft.”
The good news is HB 1091 gives consumers access to clean fuel alternatives that alleviate pollution from planes, trucks, and automobiles and will reduce the impact to communities. Legislative leaders in Olympia are trying to make these cleaner fuels available in Washington through adoption of a clean fuel standard. House Bill 1091 will require fuel producers to reduce the carbon intensity of their gas and diesel by 20 percent by 2035.
The clean fuel standard creates good-paying jobs in a new clean energy economy, addressing climate change while decreasing health care costs by billions of dollars. And it creates an incentive for fuel producers to transition to cleaner fuels while also promoting vehicle electrification, resulting in pollution reduction and climate benefit. Producers who don’t transition will pay a penalty.
Polls show that more than 64 percent of Washington voters support enacting a clean fuel standard. Bringing this proven policy to the fight for environmental justice could be the next step in our state’s legacy of leading on environmental protection. We strongly support HB 1091 and urge the Senate to pass the bill and pave the way to a healthier future for all Washingtonians.