7th and Last Learning Session for the WA State Climate Assembly

Climate Action and Just Transitions / Bringing It All Together

Scenic image of rocks in a stream with mountains in the background.

Semitrucks and cars on the highway.
Rural agriculture industry with warehouse, trucks and grain silos.


The final WA Climate Assembly Learning Session started with three breakout rooms during the first part of the three-hour Zoom meeting, Saturday, February 6, 2021. Of the ten presenters in this first section, only three were shown on the YouTube video. The first presenter in Conference Room 2 was Allison Osterberg, a Senior Planner at the Thurston Regional Planning Council, who spoke on Community Energy Planning . She explained the development of Thurston County’s sustainability, adaptation and mitigation plans. In 2013, Sustainable Thurston provided 12 priority goals, including moving toward a carbon-neutral community with the first action step to find resources for climate action planning. Their 2018 Adaptation plan contained a science summary and vulnerability assessment as well as over 90 action steps. In 2020 they created a Mitigation Plan with a sector-based emissions inventory, targets for emissions reduction, over 70 action steps, and an implementation strategy.

Osterberg noted their implementation strategy was based on what they had control over locally; and areas where state help would be needed. Thurston county has less than 10% of every tax dollar in the General Fund for discretionary use, and conservation futures are only allocated .3 cents, so other sources need to be found. Even when elected officials favor climate action plans, the amount of financial support is extremely low. The State helps provide rules, codes, standards, guidance, and funding while locally, infrastructure decisions, land use conservation for carbon sequestration, technical assistance, and public outreach are made. Combined public interest, elected official leadership, staff expertise, and state action led to local action.

Osterberg’s most important lessons from Thurston county included funding mandates, providing standards, but being flexible because of the variety of areas involved, and integrating plans into existing programs and policies rather than creating a new layer of regulation.

Dr. Zack Gold, a Researcher at the UW Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and
Ecosystem Studies and UAW4121 presented on The Intersection of Climate and Labor with a Just Transition. He used examples of the recent impacts of wildfire smoke, the spread of infectious diseases, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, air quality, and storm severity to emphasize “Climate impacts cannot be understated”. Frontline communities are impacted the most.

Group of Auto Workers Union 4121 marching for Climate Change.

More importantly, he noted, while “transition is inevitable, justice is not.” It is critical to recognize that transitions are disruptive, and climate justice must be the priority. Labor unions fight for workers’ protection and the just transition away from the fossil fuel industry ensuring training, thriving wages, health care, and benefits.

Key points made by Dr. Gold for protecting workers included:

  • Focusing on frontline communities.
  • Providing reparations for environmental racism. F
  • Funding worker training programs.
  • Creating community workforce agreements to ensure jobs will be available after training.

Clean and just transportation will be needed for this just transition and also climate-resilient investments, climate-friendly affordable housing, and initiatives to “buy clean and buy fair.”

Chloe Yeo and Meghan Tinnea are Organizers of The Sunrise Movement and presented on The Youth Movement for Climate Action. Youth are joining the Sunrise Movement to address the multiple crises confronting their generation. Reversing climate change and creating millions of good jobs are their goals. They intend to make a growing organization of young people to have a political impact. In 2018 they held a sit-in for the Green New Deal in Nancy Pelosi’s office, which increased their visibility. Yeo stated they “chose the Green New Deal because it was the only policy on a national level that will do what the science says is necessary to reduce our emissions and address the climate crisis with the urgency that we need.”

Tinnea called on “the adults in the room” to stand with them and stop the fossil fuel billionaires who lobby politicians … and put monetary profit over human lives.”

Jason Herbert, Director of Government Affairs and Member Relations of Energy
spoke about Nuclear Energy and Climate Mitigation, emphasizing on the new developments in the Pacific Northwest of advanced nuclear technologies. “Nuclear energy has been produced in the US for sixty years and provided 55% of carbon-free electricity in 2019,” Herbert stated, also noting there are 94 commercial reactors in 28 states. They do not emit greenhouse gases while generating electricity and account for 19% of all electricity generated in the US.

While the US produces the most nuclear energy, China will likely outproduce us within ten years. Nuclear power is the most reliable energy operating at full capacity 93% of the time. In Washington State the only nuclear power is from the Columbia Generating Station, situated next to the Columbia River between Richland and Hanford. It is publicly owned and provides all power at cost to its ratepayers. The output is 1207 Megawatts which is enough to power a million homes, or a Seattle-sized city, and accounts for 8-10% of the total annual electricity generated in Washington.

When coal and natural gas are phased out, replacing them will be a planning challenge. The risk of blackouts could increase if there is an energy shortage. According to Herbert, electrification of transportation will require more electricity, and nothing is planned after 2018 to adjust for this increase. The Clean Energy Transformation Act (CETA) included nuclear energy as acceptable non-emitting energy.

To get to 100% carbon-free energy in 2045, Hebert cited a study by E3 that showed using nuclear power to maintain a reliable grid could avoid the need to overbuild with wind and solar. The Columbia Generating Station needs to be relicensed in 2045. Advanced nuclear and small modular reactors such as those from NuScale would be necessary to reduce system costs. This plan would provide integrated energy that would still need some new solar and wind projects, including storage to be built.

In 2020 Congress appropriated $160M for two advanced reactor demonstration projects. The Department of Energy is funding two 50/50 cost-share projects for up to $4B per project requiring online capability demonstration by 2027. Energy Northwest was named in two applications and both awards by the Department of Energy for advanced reactor demonstration project (ARDP) funding. TerraPower, with Bill Gates, as chairman of the Board and X-energy, are two companies that won Federal 50/50 funding. They are developing two advanced nuclear reactors and are interested in building them in Washington State.

Marnie Boardman is the Climate Change Coordinator for the Division of Environmental Public Health at Washington State’s Department of Health. Her presentation was on Statewide Health Disparities and Climate. Learning how climate affects health and how disparities are tracked using the Disparities Map were the objectives for her presentation. Information about this subject is available at the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Boardman recognized the scientific findings that indicate that as the severity, duration, frequency, and location of weather hazards change due to climate change, existing health problems will become more significant, and new ones will appear. These risks are already being seen and will continue to increase, affecting everyone. Vulnerability is disproportionate. Adaptation and mitigation can reduce health risks, and many actions could be taken to benefit health now.

Historically these climate-related health risks have been managed relatively well, but as exposure and severity increase, our ability to protect ourselves will decrease. Boardman shared the examples from poor air quality from wildfire smoke that increased breathing difficulties, headaches, existing lung, heart, and circulatory problems.

Boardman’s next problem was the decrease in the quality of drinking water due to increased rainfall causing contamination from runoff and treatment system overload. Surface water resources can be disrupted, too, due to drought. Finding clean drinking water might be difficult for some people with challenges.

While we have a robust drinking water system, if it’s disrupted, somebody with lower income, socially isolated, or with limited mobility might have trouble getting access to clean drinking water.”

The safety and availability of food will be affected as well, according to Boardman. Food-borne pathogens will increase and raise the risk of illness. We already see an increase in a toxic algal bloom. Acidification in our local waters is affecting the ability of oysters to form shells. She believes health will be affected when agriculture and aquaculture yields are disrupted, and food access is reduced.

As sea levels rise, Boardman identified areas in Washington State that are already causing hazards to people’s homes, roads. wastewater, energy, and water systems. The villages of Taholah, a part of the Quinault Indian Nation, and La Push on the Quileute Nation lands, have begun managed retreat programs due to erosion and high water surges. Other tribes, including the Makah Nation and the Hoh Indian Tribe, live on lands near water vulnerable to flooding. Increased wildfires and heat waves from climate change will also affect our communities.

Physical and mental health risks increase from disaster and displacement. Boardman identified vulnerable populations as showing higher health risks, including those with lower incomes, the elderly, children, pregnant women, and indigenous communities. Some immigrant communities where limited English is a factor, some communities of color, some occupational groups, such as outdoor workers and people with pre-existing physical and mental illnesses, would be affected by existing health disparities.

Factors that increase risk include exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Boardman stated the interaction of these elements is significant to calculating the effects of vulnerability. Health reactions could consist of heat rash and cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke leading to death.

She expanded her examples to look at populations affected by smoke from wildfires in Washington State in 2017 and 2020. Communities in Eastern Washington had greater exposure in 2017, while coastal areas were harder hit in 2020. Boardman identified schools, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities as areas where vulnerable populations might be concentrated. The kinds of community adaptations might be improving indoor air quality in these buildings.

Sameer Ranade is a Civic Engagement and Policy Manager at Front and Center. His focus was on the WA State SB 5141, known as the Health Environment for All (HEAL) Act that contains the following definition of Environmental Justice developed in 2019 by Washington’s Environmental Taskforce.

Environmental Justice Definition

The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This includes using an intersectional lens to address disproportionate environmental and health impacts by prioritizing highly impacted populations, equitably distributing resources and benefits, and eliminating harm.”

Ranade stated, “Environmental Justice (EJ) is central to climate change which is ultimately caused by social problems driven by a lack of compassion and justice in our society.” He would like to honor the memory of Billy Frank Jr., a life-long EJ advocate, by seeing SB 5141 passed.

Ranade identified race followed by income as the top two indicators a person will be impacted by pollution and climate change. The history of EJ was reviewed, starting with the strong connection it has to labor rights. The start of the modern EJ movement is believed to have started in North Carolina in 1982 when a Black community protested a landfill for toxic industrial chemical waste being located in their county. Although the landfill still opened, the protest increased awareness of the need for EJ laws, In 1994, Executive Order 12898 was signed by President Clinton requiring, Federal Agencies to address EJ, which since then was inconsistently applied due to its status as only being an Executive Order.

By passing HB 5141, Ranade pointed out, the previous order would become law. It would guide planning to make the worst areas of pollution the highest priority. Front and Centered was the Executive Taskforce’s co-chair and met with community groups to discuss EJ issues and stories. The groups’ members then attended the task force meetings, shared their stories and created the policy for HB 5141.

The high point of the HEAL Act, according to Ranade, “is to require agencies to work to eliminate all of the health disparities in our state, and achieve the same health care qualities in every community.” The specific State agencies required to incorporate EJ into their strategic plans are; Agriculture, Commerce, Ecology, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Puget Sound Partnership. All other agencies should strive to achieve EJ but participation is optional.

Also required is an equitable and robust outreach, to conduct EJ assessments, and to embed justice in budgets with goals on how state monies are to be distributed and require a minimum of 40% of state environmental investments benefit overburdened communities. This percentage is consistent with the Federal plan and New York State’s as well.

And finally, an annual report from agencies on their work to achieve EJ, offering tribal consultation, maintaining the Health Disparities Map, and establishing a twelve-member EJ council appointed by the Governor to work with the Department of Health would be required.

Syris Valentine is a Real Estate and Eco-Innovation Project Manager with Africatown Community Land Trust and an EcoDistricts Accredited Professional. His speech explains the concepts of Achieving Equity through the Just Transition, which requires a restructuring of power from Capitalism which he believes causes an unsustainable economic system. Examples he gave were countries fighting for oil and shipping rights through the Arctic ocean for economic gain exploiting its fragile ecosystem that will be available with continued global warming and ocean warming. Valentine would prefer using all available assets and efforts to stop global warming.

According to Valentine the question of focus for the WA Climate Assembly is “terribly ironic” because the “sadistic system” that created the problem cannot be a part of the solution. The following new question was posed by Valentine:

How do we, The People, redesign the economic systems states stand upon so climate mitigation strategies can be implemented in a way that enables community self-determination while rectifying centuries of injustice brought against people and planet?”

The answer for Valentine, “Lies in the Just Transition, one centered on and led by marginalized communities. The Just Transition uses the framework that cutting carbon is not enough to avoid an ecological catastrophe. Shifting our economy from extractive, exploitative, linear economics to community-based, regenerative, circular economics is needed. It is a framework of stewardship over ownership, decentralization over accumulation, and bottom-up community-based governance over top-down state-based governance,” said Valentine.

Instead of Climate Assemblies, Valentine would prefer Community Climate Coalitions to create local solutions and tapping into the “urgency and energy they feel every day.” Rather than gather to decide on policies, these communities would reclaim their power. Climate Coalitions are based on democracy, transparency, and inclusivity. Local climate advocacy groups must include marginalized people.

Communication and understanding will increase by using consciousness-raising awareness activities, creating holistic solutions for a carbon-free future. As economies move away from carbon dependence, they will also move towards decentralization using an energy co-operative framework similar to ones already used by food co-ops. Valentine envisions solar on every roof and lawns converted to mini-farms becoming micro-habitats and carbon sinks. “Jobs would increase, and the Just Transitional Alliance strategy, using co-operative group economics, would pool resources for democratically governed and community-managed funds that local solutions could be invested in,” stated Valentine.

Because of wealth disparity between communities, Valentine imagines the State would assist by remodeling our regressive tax system to redistribute wealth and balance inequities. A wealth tax bill has been introduced to Washington State legislators. Valentine sees little hope for government action, even for the WA Climate Assembly’s proposals. Building up more coalitions to challenge the government on many levels needs to increase. Eventually, transnational communities could join to form bioregional republics like Cascadia. Joining community coalitions and increasing networks will strengthen the power to change the existing gridlock limiting climate action.

Katelyn Roedner Sutter is a Manager for the U.S. Climate Environmental Defense Fund. Her presentation explained State-Level Emissions Data and Washington 2030 Goals. Last year an analysis revealed that Washington State and all other Climate Alliance states are failing to meet their emissions reduction goals. Sutter stated that WA State is not accelerating the pace of action needed to reach its future goals to reduce cumulative greenhouse gas pollution over the next decade.

In 2017 Washington State was a co-founder of the Climate Alliance with two other states. Some emissions reduction has occurred, during the current COVID-19 pandemic, but not enough to provide substantial or long-term goals. The longer Washington waits to take action, the larger the cumulative effects will be from emissions. Sutter said taking swift action now could double the amount of emission reductions totaling around 119 million metric tons of pollution kept out of our atmosphere.

Policies establishing a declining, enforceable limit of GHG pollution, providing economic and environmental support for disproportionately impacted communities, evaluating progress based on emission metrics, taxing pollution and increasing, and using clean technologies are the major points of Sutter’s policy solutions.

Dr. Steven Ghan is a Climate Scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. He demonstrated the En-ROADS Climate Change Solutions Simulator tool, which can be installed from the Climate Interactive website. The tool contains graphs that can be used offline to mimics how human activities respond to climate policies. Dr. Ghan demonstrated increasing taxes for coal and subsidies for renewables as a possible scenario for Washington State. There is a section to improve the electrification of transportation and efficiency of buildings. In the section for deforestation, Dr. Ghan noted there wasn’t much deforestation in Washington and recommended: “highly reducing that on the graph.” Other options included afforestation, the practice of creating a forest or stand of trees where there had not been any in the past. He showed how to simulate carbon removal through various technologies. Dr. Ghan ended by encouraging his audience to use the tool to adjust the parameters for various situations and then see how it changes the graphs and affects the outcomes.

The WA Climate Assembly closed its Learning Sessions section with final thoughts and a survey question. The next two and a half weeks will be spent in 5 Deliberative Sessions closed to the public. A voting session is scheduled for Saturday, February 27th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. PST.

%d bloggers like this: