Buildings account for 23% of Washington’s carbon emissions. And energy use in buildings is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution here except for air travel. For our state to be on track for achieving its climate goals, we must reduce natural gas usage in buildings by 14% by 2030. Washington residents, instead, are increasing their use of residential gas!
As a creation justice church, we should be individually querying legislative candidates about their level of support for reducing building emissions. We should be trying to ensure that’s what the winners in the August 2 primary and November 8 general elections will do. The Senate races are particularly important since two of our staunchest climate advocates, Reuven Carlyle and Mona Das, aren’t seeking re-election.
Reducing building emissions was Sacred Earth Matters’ top priority in the 2022 legislative session. But only one of its priority bills on this issue was approved, and it (SB 5772) merely extends existing benchmarks to smaller buildings. Yet 21 senators and 45 representatives voted against it SEM’s scorecard indicates they include Senators Hasegawa, Muzzall, and Sefzik plus Representatives Gilday, Role, and Springer.
A bill to strengthen energy codes (HB 1770) was approved in the House, but ran out of time in the Senate. Fortunately, the Washington State Building Code Council in April approved essentially what HB 1770 tried to do and we now have one of the strongest commercial energy codes in the country. Our residential code is lacking, though.
The fossil fuel and construction industries decimated the other, more stringent bills. They included HB 1766 and SB 5668 which dealt with regulating gas companies – limiting expansion of natural gas systems and advancing the use of high-efficiency electric equipment. Their sponsors included Representatives Berry, Davis, Duerr, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Goodman, Harris-Talley, Kloba, Marci, Peterson, Ryu, Slatter, and Valdez plus Senators Das, Frockt, Liias, Lovick Nguyen, Pedersen, Saldana, Stanford, and Wellman.
Hopefully, these and other bills will be reintroduced in 2023. But they probably won’t be approved next year either unless there are more legislators who will push for making net-zero buildings a reality ASAP.
Lawmakers allocated funds in 2019 to make large buildings more energy efficient. Bellevue is currently using $75 million of that funding to encourage building owners, landlords, and managers to retrofit their buildings to lower energy consumption. Much more support is needed for retrofitting buildings, including single family homes. Utilities should also be “encouraged” to provide incentives to convert their customers’ equipment from fossil fuels to electricity.
Net-zero means not only eliminating carbon emissions but contributing to energy generation. Nearly a third of Hawaii’s single-family houses have rooftop solar panels, for example. The state even offers up to $4,250 to homeowners to add home batteries to store energy. And Puget Sound Energy provided a grant this spring which enabled the United Methodist Church in Kent to install an array of solar panels which will off-set three-quarters of the church’s annual energy consumption. Community solar should also be a priority for low-income neighborhoods.
The Earth is Sacred – Not Ours to Wreck