Scorching wildfires across the West Coast have pumped new life into the debate around what climate policy should look like in Washington state.
In the 5th Legislative District, incumbent State Sen. Mark Mullet (D) is running to defend his seat against challenger Ingrid Anderson (D). Mullet has supported some climate legislation supported by his Democratic peers, while at times opposing measures proposed by them. Anderson is hoping to differentiate herself from the incumbent with her support of these bills.
The race is pitting the incumbent, a self-described moderate, against a progressive challenger in a historically Republican district that swung blue in 2018. When Mullet was elected to the state Senate in 2012, he was the only Democrat representing the 5th District.
Mullet said he supported and voted for SB 5116, which mandates that power utilities in the state provide carbon-free energy by 2045.
“It’s getting Washington state on, I think, one of the best paths in the country to transitioning to renewables within our lifetime,” he said.
A key element of the bill, which he supported, had checks written into it that allow more time for the transition if technology isn’t able to facilitate a complete switch to carbon-free power. Mullet gave the example of battery technology that can store energy generated from solar or wind sources, which is still being developed to meet industrial-scale needs.
Mullet said his support of a clean fuel standard is conditional on securing $300 million to finish improvements on Highway 18.
“If we don’t get Highway 18 in the package next year, we could all be sitting around another decade to get another chance at it,” Mullet said.
A clean fuel standard could require oil refineries and distributors to provide the state with cleaner fuel over time, and reduce the pollution emitted from gasoline and diesel.
But Anderson said clean fuel standard legislation has twice passed the House, but stalled in the Senate. She said Mullet has obstructed similar legislation from moving forward. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th District) named Mullet by name as a roadblock to climate action in the state.
“If we pass this clean fuel standard, as soon as it is implemented, we’ll see an immediate reduction in the particulate matter in the air that we are breathing,” Anderson said.
As a nurse, Anderson said she hopes to bring her perspective to the state Senate, which currently has no nurses. Gov. Jay Inslee listed this as a reason for his support in his endorsement of Anderson.
Anderson said the effects of unhealthy air and pollution are seen by health care providers, giving her a sense of urgency to find ways to reduce them.
“That’s something I really want to be a champion of,” she said.
Mullet, who describes himself as a moderate, has in the past butted heads with Inslee on other issues. Mullet didn’t support a 2018 carbon tax bill, which failed to pass, but ended up at I-1631, which was rejected by voters statewide and in the 5th District. Mullet said he didn’t support it because the legislation didn’t include a kickback, putting revenue from the bill toward reducing property taxes.
“I vote on bills because they represent the values of the people I represent,” he said.
Other legislation Mullet said he would support includes eliminating a $75 car tab fee for hybrid electric vehicles, and renewing expired solar panel incentives for homeowners.
It’s likely that lawmakers will be thinking about climate policy when they convene for their 2021 session in January. More than 626,000 acres of land in Washington state have burned this year, with the lion’s share starting within 24 hours on Sept. 7 amid high winds.
Between 2009 and 2018, the average number of acres burned each year across Washington state was about 320,000. The fires sparked on Sept. 7 burned nearly that much in a single day.