I grew up in Tacoma in the 90’s, and still remember the feeling when the sun came out after weeks of spring drizzle, of excitement for summer: afternoons at Point Defiance, backyard bbq’s, and hikes on Mt. Rainier.
Two decades later, our summer air is not the same. The mountains are still gorgeous, when we can see them through the haze of pollution, but last week I stayed indoors. My lungs and eyes burned from the tiny filaments of ash hanging in the air. A friend took two days from work when her daughter went into smoke-induced respiratory distress and needed hospitalization.
As a scientist, I’ve studied how heat-trapping pollution makes wildfires worse, but dirty air is more than a fleeting problem on smoky days. Pollution has year-round effects on our health, and the most vulnerable among us bear the greatest burden.
It is tempting to think, “We can’t do anything…we just have to accept this.” While that mindset is convenient for the fossil fuel industry that profits from our dependence on them, it’s simply not true.
This fall we will vote on Initiative 1631, a decision about protecting our air by accelerating toward clean, renewable energy. But if we think I-1631 is merely another environmental policy, we are mistaken.
I-1631 was written by an historically diverse coalition of organizations across the state. It includes business owners who want a healthy, stable economy, labor leaders who want good paying jobs, medical doctors who treat the health impacts of pollution, tribal leaders whose nations stewarded these lands long before settlers arrived, racial justice organizations that remind us that air pollution is worse in neighborhoods that aren’t predominantly white, and environmental groups who want clean, low-cost renewable energy replacing dirty fuels.
I-1631 would place a fee on large corporate polluters. The revenue – about $1 billion per year – will be reinvested in job-generating, renewable energy and projects that wisely manage our forests and rivers, sowing a virtuous cycle of sustainable growth.
You will hear plenty of arguments intended to defeat this initiative. It’s important to know about the money behind the messenger.
The No on 1631 campaign is funded by oil and gas corporations, including the Western States Petroleum Association. Just this month, Phillips 66 in Washington, D.C. injected a whopping $3.7 million into the campaign.
They will tell you that this won’t work, and that it will burden low-income communities (ignoring the fact that the policy was written with civic leaders from low-income communities).
But I-1631 is a story of ordinary people confronting powerful giants, and history tells us that sometimes the underdog wins. When David battled Goliath 3,000 years ago in the Valley of Elah with nothing but a slingshot, he won with skill and the desire for freedom.
In Centralia, Washington’s largest solar farm is being built on the site of a former coal mine, generating 300 new construction jobs. Make no mistake: We have the skill to transition to a clean, sustainable economy. Let’s make it happen.
Judy Twedt is a graduate of Tacoma Community College and an atmospheric scientist and PhD student at the University of Washington. She also serves as a trustee of her labor union, UAW4121, and actively volunteers with Yes on 1631.