Being Frank: Repealing Climate Commitment Act comes at too high a cost

Being Frank is a column by Chairman Ed Johnstone of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. As a statement from the NWIFC chairman, the column represents the natural resources management concerns of the treaty tribes in western Washington.

Washington voters will be asked this fall how much salmon recovery is worth.

How committed are they to supporting programs that reduce carbon pollution and help communities withstand the impacts of climate change?

We already know the world is in a climate crisis. The United Nations has said reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 is the world’s most urgent mission.

Our state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA) provided $3.2 billion to the 2023-2025 budget, generated by auctioning off emission allowances to businesses that produce greenhouse gasses. Of this, $153 million was awarded to salmon recovery projects.

The CCA was passed in 2021 to improve climate resiliency and health disparities across the state. It puts the burden of reducing carbon emissions on the biggest polluters, and everyone benefits because money from the auctions is reinvested into protecting and restoring our estuaries, marine shorelines, floodplains, forestlands and more.

CCA-funded projects improve the quality of life for every citizen in the Evergreen State and are essential to protecting the environment for our children’s future.

The eventual goal is to help Washington reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 95% by 2050. In the meantime, funding is supporting tribal programs to mitigate flooding and sea level rise, as well as salmon habitat restoration work.

For example, $17 million in CCA funding is supporting four projects by Floodplains by Design, including restoration of the historic oxbow in the Quillayute River.

“The Historic Oxbow Reactivation and Restoration project will reduce flooding and erosion that threaten our homes in La Push, while reconnecting more than 2 miles of important salmon habitat,” said Quileute Chairman Douglas Woodruff. “Additional funding from the Climate Commitment Act made it possible for us to receive funding for this project through the Floodplains by Design grant program.”

In all, the CCA provided $155 million to tribal governments for this biennium. This funding is helping many tribes gain a foothold in the fight against the climate crisis, by hiring specialists and building capacity within their natural resources departments.

Unfortunately, an initiative on the ballot this year seeks to repeal the act, putting a halt to these critical programs to protect our traditional lands and resources.

“From warming salmon streams to eroding shorelines, Northwest tribes are on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” said Suquamish Tribal Chair Leonard Forsman. “In 1854, our ancestral leader Chief Seattle said ‘every part of this soil is sacred to my people’ just before he signed our ancient lands over to the United States. With the CCA, we honor his vision and provide elders, children and other vulnerable people the means to withstand the impacts of global warming.”

Forsman is one of the tribal leaders who has joined a coalition to defeat this ballot measure, Initiative 2117.

“By defeating I-2117, we can defend progress on climate change, and protect the lands, cultures and traditional ways of our region for generations to come,” he said.

Suquamish is among several tribes intending to use CCA funding to advance climate action plans.

The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe’s climate action planning includes a comprehensive assessment of the carbon footprint of the tribal community and key opportunities to reduce emissions. They also are working to evaluate the tribe’s forest and wetland areas for carbon storage potential through active management.

The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has spent the past 15 months building staff capacity to address climate impacts. It also is working with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to assess local clean energy sources.

New jobs were created using CCA money, including a Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellow doing a climate assessment for the Hoh Tribe, and a climate change specialist at the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe.

At Sauk-Suiattle and other tribes, CCA is funding the purchase and installation of solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations, among other energy efficiency projects for tribal buildings.

These programs and many more across the state are in jeopardy if Initiative 2117 passes. Its passage will significantly hinder the state Legislature’s ability to fund climate resilience efforts, including but not limited to salmon recovery.

Everyone who lives in Washington is affected by the impacts of the climate crisis, and everyone benefits from the projects being funded by the Climate Commitment Act. Repealing it comes at too high a cost.

Above: NWIFC field technicians staff survey the historic oxbow in the Quillayute River for eDNA. Restoration of the historic oxbow is one of the projects being funded by the Climate Commitment Act. Photo: John Hagan.