The budget crisis has taken center stage in Washington state politics,
but today - on Environmental Priorities Lobby Day at the legislature -
conservation groups want to convince lawmakers that a cleaner
environment and energy efficiency can create jobs.
One of the bills they're backing, the "Energy Efficiency Financing
Act," gives cities and counties the ability to issue bonds to finance
loans to weatherize homes and commercial buildings. Jessica Finn Coven,
policy specialist with the organization Climate Solutions, says other states already allow this.
"It seems like a fairly small thing; it's a thing that cities and
counties do all the time for other types of projects. But right now,
they don't have that authority to go ahead and do it for conservation
projects, and it's a really critical tool."
Both the House (HB 2853)and Senate (SB 6656) versions of that measure
had their first hearings this week. Finn Coven says the additional
bonding ability wouldn't cost taxpayers anything and would result in
lower energy costs.
Another bill that has already passed in the House (HB 2561) looks like
it could sail through the Senate (SB 6547) as well. That measure, the
"Jobs Act of 2010," is expected to put 38,000 people to work. It allows
school districts to raise money with bonds to retrofit their buildings
for energy savings.
"It has a lot of support in the Senate. And really, an amazing
collaboration of environmentalists, labor folks, schools, businesses,
have all come together saying, 'We think this bill is a great idea.'"
If the legislation passes, the public still has to vote on the idea.
Opponents say it could be confusing, especially in districts that are
voting at the same time on other types of school bonds.
Finn Coven says another hot topic in Olympia is how the economy might
affect Initiative 937, the state law that requires the larger electric
utilities to set energy-conservation targets and get more of their
power from renewable sources.
"I believe 16 out of the 17 qualifying utilities have already met their
2012 goals, so utilities are on track. Washington has made great
investments in both energy conservation and renewable energy. We can't
get off track."
Other concerns are that the budget deficit might curb air and water
quality programs, or take money away - for the second year in a row -
from toxic cleanup sites around the state.