In the next couple of weeks Washington state legislators have a window of opportunity in which to set this green-minded state on the path to a coal free future. By agreeing on a timeline to phase out the TransAlta Coal Plant – Washington’s biggest source of carbon, mercury, and many other pollutants – the legislature can follow in the footsteps of neighboring Oregon, which has already committed to transition off its single coal plant. The US Pacific Northwest can provide an example for the rest of the country to follow by phasing out its reliance on the world’s dirtiest fuel.
In the last few months student on campuses from across Washington have been organizing for the state’s coal-free future. This school year seven student governments representing over 60,000 college and university students are passing resolutions in favor of transitioning off the TransAlta Plant. Students have been organizing campus events to educate their peers about the impacts of coal pollution and urging elected officials to support a future powered by clean energy. However student organizing is just part of a much broader movement to replace coal with clean energy in Washington. A diverse coalition of environmental, faith, health, and labor groups has risen to stand up for clean energy and a just transition away from burning fossil fuels.
After months of negotiating, there is finally a bill in the Washington legislature that would end coal combustion in the state – though not nearly as fast and many activists, including myself, would like. The Coal Free Future for Washington bill (ESSB 5769) would begin the move off coal in 2020 by requiring TransAlta Corporation end the use of one of its two coal-fired smokestacks. The remaining smokestack would come offline in 2025. Very importantly, the bill also secures funds to help the community where the plant is located transition to other sources of employment.
ESSB 5769 has already been passed by the Washington Senate, and has the support of the governor, environmental groups, and labor organizations. It is now time for the state House of Representatives to show the same leadership, making the bill stronger and not weaker along the way. In the next couple of weeks I’m hopeful the state House will make history for Washington by passing the Coal Free Future bill. I also hope legislators will seriously consider moving up the deadline for retiring TransAlta’s smokestacks, so as to minimize communities’ exposure to toxic pollution.
The state of Washington should seize this opportunity to become one of the first states in the US that commits to going coal-free, passing the Coal Free Future bill before critical legislative deadlines arrive. Seven student governments representing more than 60,000 students are urging lawmakers not to blow this.