Washington’s second carbon auction sold pollution for over $500M

The site for Puget Sound Energy's new Tacoma LNG facility

The site for Puget Sound Energy's new Tacoma LNG facility, photographed Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. PSE is the state’s top emitter of greenhouse gases. (Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

Washington’s second carbon auction at the end of May sold pollution for more than $500 million. The first auction of pollution allowances raised almost $300 million in February.

The Washington Department of Ecology announced this week that the May auction sold nearly 8.6 million 2023 allowances and another 2.5 million 2026 allowances. Each unit represents one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions.

The price on carbon was also higher at the May auction, where bids were received almost entirely from energy companies and utilities. A few other kinds of organizations also were listed as qualified bidders, including the city of Ellensburg, Washington State University and Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc., a private equity firm.

During the 2023 legislative session, lawmakers made decisions about how to spend the money raised through these auctions, focusing on projects to slow or adapt to climate change. Those investments include money to electrify buses and ferries and build a charging infrastructure, restore salmon habitat, accelerate clean-energy projects and help ease the burden of pollution on vulnerable communities.

This is the first year of implementing the state’s new Climate Commitment Act, which passed in 2021. Businesses generating more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon emissions must participate in the program or face fines up to $10,000 per violation per day.  

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Amid a rising number of drug overdoses locally and nationwide, 13 Washington counties are participating in a new Department of Health dashboard tracking unintentional overdose deaths

The 13 participating counties account for about 88% of statewide overdose deaths. The Department of Health plans to add more counties, with a goal to include data from the entire state. The currently participating counties are: Clallam, Clark, Grays Harbor, Island, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Skagit, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima.

The Unintentional Drug Overdose Data dashboard presents the data by demographics, including age, race and ethnicity, industry, gender and other categories; as well as which drug categories are involved and the circumstances in which the overdose occurred. 

The state says the data, collected through the CDC’s State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System (SUDORS), use information from coroner and medical examiner reports, toxicology, autopsy and a prescription-drug monitoring program. The oldest data from Washington’s unintentional deaths dashboard are from 2019.

This state previously made some data available in April on the Opioid and Drug Overdose Data Dashboard. That dashboard shows all overdose deaths, hospitalizations and EMS responses, sortable by residence, age, gender and race/ethnicity, for every county in Washington.

The dashboard is being launched as the state and advocates work to stop the rising rate of drug use and overdoses, including pushing for greater addiction recovery resources and making naloxone, a medication used to reverse opioid overdoses, more available in public places and schools

The Spokane City Council has formally denounced Mayor Nadine Woodward’s appearance at an August event with former state legislator Matt Shea and traveling Christian nationalist pastor Sean Feucht.

The resolution, passed on a vote of 4-3 Monday, says in part: “Spokane City Council formally denounces Mayor Nadine Woodward for her actions that associated her with an alleged domestic terrorist, former Representative Matt Shea, who has participated in the planning of taking arms up against the United States of America, and denounces her preplanned attendance that associates her with known anti-LGBTQ extremist, Sean Feucht, and hateful rhetoric.”

A group of people gathered on a stage and pray.
Matt Shea and Sean Feucht lay hands in prayer on Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward on Aug. 20, 2023 at the Podium. (Courtesy of Joseph Peterson)

Both Shea and Feucht lead movements that couch their right-wing political views in evangelical Christianity

When Shea was in the state House of Representatives, his own caucus, the Washington Republican Caucus, expelled him in 2020 after an investigation accused him of helping to plan the 2016 takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, as well as participating in two other armed conflicts against the U.S. government and recruiting militia members. Shea opted not to run for reelection that year and now runs a Christian-based organization that encourages evangelicals to get involved in politics.

Feucht, a musician and megachurch leader from California, tours the U.S. with his Christian revival events, including Let Us Worship, which started as a state-by-state protest against COVID-19 restrictions, and continues today. After accusations of being a Christian nationalist – a person who calls for laws and government to be based on evangelical Christian beliefs – Feucht has embraced the term.

Woodward joined Shea onstage at Feucht’s Aug. 20 Let Us Worship event in Spokane, where Shea led a prayer over her and others running for office this year, according to news organization Range Media. After the event, Woodward denied knowing that Shea would be there and denounced his politics.

Free home COVID tests are back – and here’s how to order them

A photo of two COVID tests show positive results

COVID-19 antigen home tests indicating a positive result, as photographed in New York, April 5, 2023. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)

The federal government is restarting its free COVID-19 home test distribution program, as federal and local health officials get ready for “respiratory virus season.”

Starting Sept. 25, each household will be able to order four tests from the reopened COVIDTests.gov, which also has information on how to check for extended expiration dates on test kits that people might already have at home. 

The restarting of the federal testing program comes as Washington, along with the rest of the United States, sees a slight increase in people testing positive for COVID-19 in the past few months – though at much lower levels than in the previous two fall seasons.

It also comes just after FDA approval of the latest COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which are expected to reach clinics and pharmacies in Washington over the next few weeks.

Washington health officials last week encouraged residents to get updated vaccines, and said that they expect that getting a shot for COVID-19 will be an annual habit similar to the influenza vaccine.

Health officials also encouraged frequent hand-washing and to consider wearing masks to help stem the spread of viral infections during the “respiratory virus season” – the fall and winter months when COVID, influenza (also known as flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are at risk of increased spread. 

The Washington State Department of Health has also launched a Respiratory Illness Data Dashboard, so people can keep track of those three viral infections. 

Court blocks ballot measure to close WA rural library district

The book "What's the T" on a shelf

Juno Dawson’s ‘What’s the T?’ is one of several books that have sparked controversy in Dayton. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

The Dayton Memorial Library in Columbia County will survive, after a court on Wednesday blocked a general-election ballot measure that called for dissolving it.

A Columbia County-based group, Neighbors United for Progress, filed a lawsuit to stop the measure. It had qualified for the November ballot after a petition by people upset by the Columbia County Library District’s placement of LGBTQ+ books for teenagers.

Columbia County Superior Court Commissioner Julie Karl blocked the Columbia County Auditor’s Office from printing ballots with the measure. She said in court that dissolving the library would be an “irreparable loss” to the community because of the diverse services it provides aside from books, noting its resources for people who are low-income or who do not have housing.

The picture shows a brick library building.
The Dayton Memorial Library in Dayton, Wash. (Courtesy of CCRLD)

Neighbors United for Progress also argued that because only Columbia County voters who live outside the Dayton city limits could vote on the measure, it would disenfranchise city residents who pay taxes for the district by violating their rights to representation. The library district’s sole building is within the city limits of Dayton, the largest city in Columbia County.

Earlier this year, community resident Jessica Ruffcorn organized the petition after she and others were upset that minors had access to LGBTQ+ books that they believe have sexual content. The community debate leading to the ballot measure in this rural Washington county mirrors a growing national fight over access to books in schools and libraries throughout the U.S.

Lawsuit against Washington cap-and-trade program set for hearing

Wind turbines in the distance with a road in the foreground.

Wind turbines on a hill near Ellensburg in November 2022. (Genna Martin/Crosscut)

The first legal showdown over Washington’s cap-and-trade program, which went into effect in January, will be Sept. 22 in Thurston County Superior Court.

In January the Citizen Action Defense Fund, a watchdog group that focuses on conservative causes, filed a lawsuit against the state that alleges the Legislature crammed multiple subjects into its 2022 transportation bill, including the cap-and-trade program. The complaint alleges that the bill violates the Washington state constitution by covering more than one subject.

In the Sept. 22 hearing, the plaintiff will seek a summary judgment from the judge on its lawsuit.

The lawsuit has two goals, said Jackson Maynard, executive director for the Citizen Action Defense Fund. One is to hold the line on the constitutional rule that limits a bill to one subject. The second is to halt, at least temporarily, the state’s new cap-and trade program.

The Legislature approved the cap-and-trade bill in 2021, but not until last year’s transportation bill was passed could the Washington Department of Ecology set up regulations to put the program into action.

Washington’s cap-and-trade program is designed to decrease carbon emissions in the state to meet 2035 and 2050 decarbonization goals. A 2021 Washington Department of Ecology report estimated the state’s carbon dioxide emissions at 99.57 million tons in 2018. A 2008 state law calls for overall emissions to be reduced to 50 million tons by 2030, to 27 million tons by 2040 and to 5 million tons by 2050.

Under the program, carbon-emitting corporations bid on allowances for the pollution emitted by their facilities. Through a complex system, the winning bidders all pay the same prices during each quarterly auction. Those final prices were $48.50 per allowance (roughly one metric ton of carbon) for the first quarter of 2023; $56.01 per allowance for the second quarter; and $63.03 per allowance for the third quarter.

Washington’s program is often referred to as “cap-and-invest,” because the money raised in the auction is spent on projects meant to slow or adapt to climate change, such as replacing gas-powered buses and ferries with electric versions, building cleaner energy projects and more.

The cap-and-trade bids have been linked to gasoline price increases of 40 cents to 50 cents per gallon. Right now, Washington and California are competing to have the highest gasoline prices in the nation. Washington’s gas prices have traditionally been near the highest in the nation due to a variety of factors, but June was the first time that Washington has posted the highest prices.

The program has raised $1.46 billion so far. The money is earmarked for a large number of programs to combat climate change, which has been linked to increasing problems with health, agriculture, fish and wildfires.

“I’m not convinced the money generated from Washington’s cap-and-trade system will help the environment,” said Dann Mead Smith of the fund’s board of directors. 

Negating the state’s 2022 rule-making capabilities on cap-and-trade will temporarily stop the program, which will translate to lower gasoline prices, Smith said.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office does not comment on ongoing litigation, said spokesman Mike Faulk. “However, laws are presumed constitutional and the challenging party bears the heavy burden of establishing its unconstitutionality beyond a reasonable doubt; and the Legislature routinely passes omnibus revenue measures with an intentionally broad title,” Faulk said.

Former Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna is on the attorney advisory council for the defense fund. 

Other conservative groups are trying additional avenues to attempt to block the new law. The advocacy organization Let’s Go Washington is gathering signatures on petitions to ask the Washington Legislature to repeal the state’s new carbon-pricing system.

Let’s Go Washington has to collect 324,516 valid signatures by Dec. 29 to submit to the Legislature any of the six petitions it is developing. If the Legislature decides not to act on the petitions with enough signatures in its 2024 session, they would go on the election ballot for the November 2024 election.

Democrats have significant majorities in both the Washington House and Senate, meaning any successful petition would likely receive a chilly reception.

Seattle City Councilmember wants to stagger election years

buttons and stickers saying "i voted" sit on a table

“I Voted” stickers at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Jovelle Tamayo for Crosscut)

Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda wants to shift future Council elections to limit mass turnover of councilmembers and the brain drain of institutional knowledge that comes with it.

The City Council comprises seven district representatives and two citywide at-large positions, all of which are four-year terms. The district elections and at-large elections are held two years apart.

Mosqueda is proposing staggering elections instead of electing all seven district positions at once, which Seattle voters have done since 2015. In addition, she wants to move election years for one of the Council’s two at-large positions.

This November’s district Council elections illustrate how the current system sets Seattle up for potential major change every four years.

This year, only three of seven district councilmembers are seeking reelection, guaranteeing at least four new faces in City Hall next year. And of course the three incumbents could also lose their races. On top of it all, Mosqueda, an at-large councilmember, is running for King County Council and has a strong chance of winning, so it’s possible eight out of nine city councilors will be new to the job next year. 

“I think this would be a really positive way for us to ensure greater stability and continuity as we look to serve members of the community and help reduce a large number of seats turning over all at once,” said Mosqueda during the Sept. 14 Finance and Housing Committee meeting.

Mosqueda’s proposal is to shift the elections for Districts 2, 4 and 6 by two years to align with at-large position 8, as well as with mayoral and city attorney elections. She has also proposed moving elections for at-large position 9 by two years so it aligns with elections for odd-numbered district Council positions.

To make that election shuffle work, there would need to be elections for special two-year terms for Council position 9 and district positions 2, 4 and 6. These positions would then run again for their regular four-year terms, and the new system would be fully in place by 2030.

a chart showing how elections will be staggered
A chart by City Council central staff showing how the system would be implemented over six years.

Seattle voters created the district City Council system with the passage of a 2013 ballot measure, Charter Amendment 19.

Councilmembers Alex Pedersen, Lisa Herbold and Sara Nelson expressed varying degrees of concern about staggering Positions 8 and 9, the two at-large elections. Nelson said that the original intent of running at-large elections at the same time as mayoral elections was to force an at-large councilmember to choose between their own reelection or to run for mayor.

The logic, as Nelson explained it, is to prevent a scenario where an at-large councilmember runs for mayor, loses, then spends the rest of their Council term at odds with the winning executive. Granted, there’s nothing stopping a district councilmember from running a losing campaign for mayor, keeping their seat for the remainder of their term and finding themselves similarly at odds.

For Mosqueda’s proposal to become reality, the full City Council would first need to adopt a resolution in support of the idea. It would then be up to Seattle voters to pass a charter amendment on the November 2024 ballot.

Inslee, Gregoire endorse Bob Ferguson for Washington governor

A picture of Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who is running for governor.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. (Courtesy of Bob Ferguson)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine and former Gov. Chris Gregoire have endorsed Bob Ferguson for governor in 2024. 

The announcements came this weekend as Ferguson, the state attorney general, officially kicked off his gubernatorial bid with campaign stops in Seattle, Spokane and the Tri-Cities, according to a news release.

“I’ve worked closely with Bob Ferguson and watched him work to hold powerful interests accountable and defend the core freedoms, including reproductive freedom, of every Washingtonian,” Inslee said in a statement distributed by the Ferguson campaign. “He knows how to win and deliver for Washingtonians."

With Inslee opting not to run again after three terms, the open governor's contest has drawn two fellow Democratic statewide elected officials: Ferguson and Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. In a statement Monday, the Franz campaign announced endorsements by the local firefighter unions in Bellevue and Shoreline. They “join hundreds of other firefighters in Vancouver, Wenatchee, Spokane, Spokane County, and Walla Walla in endorsing Franz for governor,” according to the statement.

Also running is state Sen. Mark Mullet, a moderate Democrat from Issaquah, who has previously clashed with Inslee. In a social media post ahead of the weekend’s endorsement announcement, Mullet characterized Washington’s high prices for housing and fuel in recent years, declaring, “Gov. Inslee’s endorsement of my opponent indicates there will be more of the same under his leadership.”

The race has also drawn former U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, a moderate Republican, and Semi Bird, a conservative who was recalled last month by voters from his position as Richland School Board member. The August 2024 primary election will narrow the field of these and other candidates to the two top vote-getters, who will advance to the November 2024 ballot.

Federal judge lifts most judicial oversight of Seattle police

Seattle Police in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood

Members of the Seattle Police Department on Capitol Hill, July 25, 2020. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

A federal judge has ended most judicial oversight of the Seattle Police Department, nearly a dozen years after a federal “consent decree” was issued demanding reform.

U.S. District Judge James Robart said on Wednesday he would continue to monitor Seattle Police in the following areas: officer accountability, including decisions reached during collective bargaining, and use of force in crowd management. But Robart essentially agreed with the city and the U.S. Justice Department that Seattle Police had met most of the requirements of the consent decree.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell called the judge’s ruling a critical milestone in the city’s efforts to reform policing, and said it showed the department had made significant changes in its approach to crime, behavioral health incidents and professional standards.

“I am grateful for the excellent work of our police officers that brought us to this point,” the mayor said in a statement. “I am also thankful for the people of Seattle who have, from the beginning of this journey 12 years ago, wanted a police service that is fair, respectful, and effective in keeping everyone safe in every neighborhood.”

The mayor acknowledged there was still work to do in improving police accountability, and promised to keep working with the citizen advisory board to make sure reforms are maintained. 

The Bremerton High School football coach who won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said school employees had a right to practice “private personal prayer” on the field has resigned after one game.

Assistant football coach Joe Kennedy submitted the resignation letter to the Bremerton School District this week, the district confirmed on its website. The resignation is pending board approval at Thursday’s regularly scheduled meeting. District spokesperson Karen Bevers told Crosscut that the district would not make any additional statements.

Kennedy confirmed his resignation in a prepared statement on his website:

“I believe I can best continue to advocate for constitutional freedom and religious liberty by working from outside the school system so that is what I will do. I will continue to work to help people understand and embrace the historic ruling at the heart of our case. As a result of our case, we all have more freedom, not less. That should be celebrated and not disrespected,” said Kennedy.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled in Kennedy’s favor and ordered the district to offer him a football coaching job for this season.

His lawsuit gained national prominence as it progressed through the court system as a potentially precedent-setting religious-freedom case, which also was expected to show the effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s first year with a strongly conservative majority.

The court ruled that Bremerton School District administrators violated Kennedy’s rights when they asked him to stop praying with players on the 50-yard line after games, which Kennedy said he had done regularly since he started coaching at the high school.

A person stands on the 50-yard line on a high school football field.
Bremerton High School assistant football coach Joe Kennedy stands at the center of the field on the 50 yard line at Bremerton Memorial Stadium, Nov. 5, 2015. (Larry Steagall/Kitsap Sun)

The controversy stirred up a media circus during the 2015 season. During one game, members of the public rushed the field to pray alongside Kennedy. At another, a group of Bremerton High School students invited Satanists to pray on the field.

When the district suspended Kennedy with pay in 2015, district administrators said in an announcement at the time that his actions possibly violated the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which states that the government will not favor one religion over another. The following season, Kennedy did not apply to continue his football contract with Bremerton High School, though his lawyers maintained that this was the same as being fired.

Kennedy, who moved to Florida several years ago to help his wife’s family through medical issues, told right-wing personality Glenn Beck last year that he intended to return to Bremerton High School.

“I'm a man of principle, I guess. And that's my hometown. My kids … live right by the school. All my family's there, all my friends.”

Kennedy returned to the Bremerton Knights last month in the run-up to the football season, and was included in off-season communications. The Knights’ season opener was a home game against an out-of-conference high school team, the Mount Douglas Rams from Victoria, B.C., five days before he submitted his resignation.

WA Proud Boy Ethan Nordean sentenced for Jan. 6 insurrection

A man in a backwards hat speaks into a megaphone amidst a crowd

Proud Boy member Ethan Nordean walks toward the U.S. Capitol in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

A federal judge Friday sentenced a Washington resident and leader of the Proud Boys to 18 years in prison for helping to storm the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, also received 36 months of supervised release, according to a news release by the U.S. Department of Justice. Nordean, 33, is one of several members of the Proud Boys to be sentenced this week by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly.

A group of right-wing street brawlers, the Proud Boys played a role in the attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as former President Donald Trump sought to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In May, a jury found Nordean guilty of six federal counts, including seditious conspiracy, destruction of government property and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

Along with Proud Boy members Enrique Tarrio, Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola, Nordean “participated in every consequential breach at the Capitol on January 6,” according to a sentencing memo by federal prosecutors.

“Nordean led a group of nearly 200 men to the Capitol and onto Capitol grounds,” according to another sentencing memo by the federal government. “He immediately moved to the front of the throng and took action by tearing down the fence, which permitted the rioters to proceed further into the restricted area.”

“He defied law enforcement’s calls to disperse, and he ignored calls from his own men to leave. Nordean was there to use force against the government and lead what he viewed as a second American Revolution …” according to the memo, which requested a 27-year sentence for Nordean.

An email from Crosscut to Nordean’s attorney seeking comment was not immediately returned, but his attorney submitted a sentencing memo which stated in part: “The penalties Nordean has already incurred as a result of this case are sufficient to deter him from ever again entering the Capitol, protesting there, and recidivating.”

More than 1,100 individuals have been arrested since the insurrection, according to the Department of Justice.