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A Transition to Clean Energy

A real, enforceable plan to reduce our single largest source of climate pollution.

This story begins with a coal plant and the community that depends on it.  We’ll follow it on a journey to a cleaner energy future for Washington

Washington has one coal plant. It’s our largest single source of climate pollution and an ongoing threat to public health. But it’s also a big employer in an economically-depressed county, which means shutting it down without a plan to rebuild the economy is out of the question.

Trying to phase out this coal plant isn’t a new issue. Environmental groups like Sierra Club and WEC have been working for several years to accelerate the transition away from coal. Talks stalled with Governor Gregoire and the plant owner TransAlta, and there was no clear path forward. Each delay meant more climate emissions and more toxic pollution endangering our health.

The environmental community knew that the discussion needed an infusion of energy to get things moving. So when the time came to choose the four Environmental Priorities for the 2011, state legislative session, we selected a responsible transition for the coal plant. And as a community, we set to work with a broad range of environmental groups, faith groups, and public health interests to find the right solution.

We worked together to hammer out a bill that we thought met all the big needs – a firm deadline for stopping coal-fired power generation and an economic development plan for Lewis County. It was a groundbreaking approach and there was a lot of excitement when Rep. Marko Liias introduced it in the state House.

And then it went nowhere.

While the bill was an excellent model, there was strong opposition from the company and the workers based, primarily, on the speed of the transition. Again, we were stalled. 

However, in the Senate, some action was brewing. Senator Phil Rockefeller, who had played a leadership role in discussions over the past several years, had been talking to everyone — the environmentalists, the company, and the governor — and introduced a bill that made no one happy, but kept the ball moving forward.

At this point, the Governor convened a conversation with the company and the environmental community to explore a negotiated solution. For the first time, the environmental community and the company sat down together.

Because of the years of public engagement and the live legislation, there was pressure to come to an agreement. WEC Board MemberRod Brown, KC Golden from Climate Solutions, Nancy Hirsh from NW Energy Coalition, and Bruce Nilles from Sierra Club were on hand to represent the environmental community.

Finally, we came to an agreement that met everyone’s needs. The agreement: phases out coal burning, with one of two boilers shutting down in 2020 and the other in 2025; requires installation of air-pollution controls in the near-term; and provides $55 million for economic development in Lewis County and clean energy development in Washington. A firm timeline and investment in the local community were the non-negotiables for the environmental community and this met both of them.

This deal is a huge step forward for Washington – it is a real, enforceable plan to reduce our single largest source of climate pollution, as well as a significant source of air pollution that threatens our public health.

It also follows our credo – that we can and should have a healthy environment and a strong economy – with investments in Lewis County’s economic future. The compromise bill was signed into law by Governor Gregoire on April 29, 2011.

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