After years of setting aggressive climate goals, King County’s leadership has failed to enact policies that will actually meet those targets according to the County’s own analysis. We know what we need to do to hit our climate goals, the only remaining question is whether we can trust the same leaders who have yet to set us on a path to avert the worst of the climate crisis to finally show the urgency needed to get the job done.
The drivers of climate change in Washington are well-known: emissions from transportation and our building stock. Both are responsible for the overwhelming majority of greenhouse gas pollution in our state. We’ve already made progress on these issues at the state level, passing a clean fuels standard and other climate policies that will lower emissions, and as the largest county in Washington state we must lead the fight against climate change.
In the County’s environmental policy experts’ own words, however, additional local action is needed in reducing how much people drive and support the switch from fossil fuel heating in our buildings to clean electricity.
Heating Our Homes without Warming the Planet
In King County, we already have access to plentiful sources of renewable energy but our building stock is still the second leading source of greenhouse gas pollution. Reducing those emissions enough to avert the worst of the climate crisis is a moral imperative, and the simple truth is that we already know what policies will get us there. We just now need leadership unwilling to compromise on the climate our children will grow up to inherit.
We can convert every existing building’s heating system to utilize the clean electricity we already produce, require every new building to be built without relying on fossil fuels, and provide the direct economic assistance many working families will need to afford transitioning to sustainable solutions for heating their homes. Here’s how we make that happen:
1. Work with unions and the construction industry to incentivize more sustainable building methods and materials, like cross-laminated timber and opening up PACE loans for commercial buildings, to create a robust green construction industry that eliminates the 50% of lifetime emissions that occur during construction.
2. Work to provide low-income families direct economic assistance to upgrade to more energy efficient appliances and replace indoor natural gas appliances that contribute to children developing asthma.
3. Work to adopt a model building code for development in unincorporated King County that requires all new construction to meet international standards for energy efficiency, then bring all 39 cities together in adopting a similar standard to ensure we meet our climate goals.
In one of the wealthiest counties in America, your ZIP code shouldn’t determine your lifespan. We all deserve clean air, water, and land. Turning that shared value into everyone’s lived reality will be difficult, but we should view the enormous challenge of cleaning up our environment as an opportunity to invest in our communities, not an obligation we begrudgingly fulfill.
A lot of politicians talk about the need to protect our environment, but I grew up living with the consequences of our leaders’ failures to follow through with real action. When my father took us out to the Duwamish River to learn how to tend crab pots, something he’d done his entire life for sustenance in Vietnam, a stranger told us we couldn’t eat the crab we’d caught here because the water was poisoned.
That was the first time I realized pollution had such a tangible impact on the way we live life in the United States. This is the reality for so many of our communities in the County, and our leaders have allowed these conditions to persist for far too long.
It wasn’t just the water that was toxic growing up in White Center, either. I had asthma growing up, like so many children of color growing up in communities experiencing disproportionate levels of air pollution. That reality persists today, despite decades of warnings from scientists and community advocates, unjustly shortening the lives of so many people in our county for no other reason than where they live.
That’s the approach I’ll bring to environmental stewardship as King County Executive, seizing the chance to avert the worst of the climate crisis and address environmental racism by investing in resilient infrastructure that will give everyone in King County access to our unique and breathtaking natural spaces. Here’s how we’ll make that happen:
1. Reduce the disproportionate health impacts in communities of color by prioritizing investments into clean energy infrastructure that brings down emissions, like expanding public transportation access to get people out of their cars and into multi-modal transit alternatives.
2. Incentivize environmental stewardship and create good-paying jobs by investing in a County Conservation Corps to employ young people and others struggling to find work in the aftermath of the pandemic cleaning up our environment.
3. Prevent additional contamination of our water and air by investing in our stormwater and runoff prevention infrastructure to make it more resilient, and prioritize those systems serving communities of color bearing the brunt of the pollution in our County.