Sen. Bob Hasegawa (far right) speaks at Asian Pacific American Legislative Day on February 26, 2015 in Olympia. • Photo by Ben Henry
Sen. Bob Hasegawa (far right) speaks at Asian Pacific American Legislative Day on February 26, 2015 in Olympia. • Photo by Ben Henry

I am convinced that conservative state senators in Olympia are dead set on poisoning us.

The Clean Fuels Standard, which would require oil refineries and distributors to cut carbon pollution from gasoline and diesel by 10 percent over 10 years, is up for debate in the Legislature. Adoption would create good jobs, provide more fuel alternatives, decrease costs and cut pollution.

But, in a political move as dirty as the air in South Park, this group of lawmakers in the state Senate has inserted a “poison pill” into a key piece of legislation in an attempt to allow big polluters to continue to poison us with dirty air.

On March 2, the Senate passed, by a 27-22 vote, a transportation revenue bill that includes the “poison pill.” The bill now goes to the House Transportation Committee, where there is still time for it to be amended to remove the provision.

As state Sen. Bob Hasegawa (11th Legislative District) explained in a meeting with constituents at the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition’s (APIC) annual Asian Pacific American Legislative Day on February 26, this maneuver was particularly counterproductive.

In a given legislation session, Hasegawa says, lawmakers essentially have three things they need to get done by the end of session: pass a transportation budget, pass a capital budget, and pass an operating budget. The poison pill Senate conservatives have inserted into the transportation package would eliminate all transit funding upon implementation of the Clean Fuels Standard. Efforts to reduce carbon emissions—you know, the stuff responsible for rising sea levels, record heat waves around the world, and the melting of our polar ice caps—would trigger this poison pill.

Somehow, Senate Republicans have decided to target mass transit and clean air, deeming them an unworthy use of public attention.

And, believe it or not, it gets wilder. The provision would also limit training opportunities for young construction workers and erode wage standards that support working families in communities across Washington.

And this is quite the shame, because the Clean Fuels Standard tries to correct the real effects of bad air on our communities. A study by the University of Washington and Puget Sound Sage found diesel exhaust exposure was higher in Georgetown and South Park, which have more people with low incomes and people of color, compared to Queen Anne.

Sage Policy Director Nicole Keenan says exposure is widespread.

“More than 4 million people in Washington live or work next to highways where they are more likely to be exposed to diesel exhaust,” she says. “Depending on where you live, you breathe different air. And if you live near highways, truck routes, or industrial activity in neighborhoods like Georgetown and South Park, you are more likely to be exposed to our state’s most harmful air pollutant—diesel exhaust.”

January’s air pollution in the Chinatown/International District neighborhood was the highest since monitoring began in June 2014, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Pollution and Equity

On February 19, I teamed up with Washington Community Action Network Political Director Mauricio Ayon to testify at a Washington Department of Ecology hearing on the proposed standards at South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown campus.

Indeed, there is a very real cost to society due to health degradation from dirty air and water, and these clean standards would help mitigate those ill effects. But there is more to this argument, particularly around equity. It was a poignant moment in the room when Mauricio spoke about how this is an issue of racial justice.

Take, for example, Georgetown. Mauricio pointed out that about 88 percent of students at Concord Elementary School, just a couple miles away from the hearing room, were students of color.

“The people who contribute the least to pollution have the most to suffer because of it,” he said.

Economic Benefits of Clean Air

Needless to say, there are significant gains to society in adopting these standards, which incentivizes the development of a variety of clean fuels and technology solutions like advanced biofuels, electricity, natural gas, and propane.

We need strong, durable, local economies that don’t ship economic gains to off-shore tax havens or Wall Street. I believe that building economies like this is the key to sustainable and equitable prosperity.

But the status quo presents us with a formula for instability and continued widening of wealth and income inequalities.

We spend $14 billion a year on oil, most of which goes out of state. By doing so, we doom the movement for local, clean energy innovation. We doom our economy to be more susceptible to falling apart at the seams when Wall Street has an off day. We doom future generations from the right to clean air.

Adoption of the standards would present locally produced alternatives to dirty oil.

It would also create jobs. Environmental Entrepreneurs estimates that every 1 million in advanced biofuels produced creates nearly 30 direct and indirect jobs.

However, while adoption of the Clean Fuels Standards would serve to strengthen our fragile economy, at the end of the day, that argument should not even matter. We should adopt these standards because it is the right thing to do. It’s good for equity, good for health, good for our future.

Demand Change

To do something about this, it’s up to you to rise up speak out. As Sen. Hasegawa said at APA Legislative Day, you need to tell your stories to the Senate Republicans who uphold corporate profit over your right to clean air. And contact members of the House Transportation Committee and urge them to amend the bill.

They should not hold transit funding hostage because they’re beholden to the oil companies. Urge them to pass a clean bill.

To contact the Senate, visit http://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Senators/Pages/default.aspx.

To contact the House Transportation Committee, visit http://leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/TR/Pages/MembersStaff.aspx.

Editor’s note (3/3/15 at 3:26 p.m.): Edits were made to reflect that the House passed the bill on March 2.

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