Gov. Jay Inslee’s effort to make Washington a coal-free state is admirable and essential. Not since the height of the Cold War has the world faced such an existential threat as climate change. And, it is coal, far beyond al other energy sources, that is the main contributor to CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately, dislodging coal from Washington’s energy grid will not be easy. Coal is extremely dirty; in addition to being the main carbon culprit, coal also causes air pollution, poisons waters supplies, and has had a devastating extraction history. Despite these issues, coal remains one of the cheapest forms of energy, and removing it from our energy portfolio will require careful planning.
Renewables and energy conservation have their place, but they cannot take on coal alone. Historically, the only low-carbon energy source that has been successful in relegating our reliance on coal has been nuclear. Indeed, France and Sweden, both countries heavily invested in nuclear, are two of the few developed nations that have been able to maintain a high standard of living with a limited impact on climate. Currently, there is a bill being debated in Olympia (SB 5991) that would empower the legislature to investigate nuclear energy as an option for mitigating Washington State’s contribution to the climate crisis. Support for this bill is critical in ensuring Washington becomes a coal-free state, and for securing a healthy environment for future generations.