Guest Commentaries

Allow DNR to tap into new carbon exchange

Law would allow public sale of sequestration instead of trees, gravel
March 31, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.

By Hilary Franz and Liz Lovelett, Guest Writers

A big thing happened in early March — a bill to enable innovative action on climate change, while making more money for schools and communities, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in Olympia. The State House of Representatives passed HB 1789, which would give the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) the ability to sell carbon sequestration credits and help the state meet the goals of the 2021 Climate Commitment Act.

Here’s how.

Washington’s working forests, farms and other public lands are essential to who we are. We have used them to build up and support our communities for more than 130 years. These lands have produced billions of dollars of revenue that have built our schools, hospitals, universities, fire stations, libraries and even our capitol dome.  

But a lot has changed — we’re not the same state we were in 1889. We’ve grown, we’ve developed new industries and we’re facing new challenges. So the way we manage our public lands needs to change too, to reflect the tremendous advances we have made in understanding the full value of our forests, farms and waters.

Our lands provide critical jobs. They provide wood for our homes, hospitals and schools. They provide food for our tables. However, the value of Washington’s rich landscapes goes well beyond the materials we can extract from them. These lands also provide clean air and water, and carbon sequestration and storage. Our lands can be an incredibly valuable tool to help us address climate change and protect the health and well-being of all Washingtonians.

And it is past time we capitalize on that value to increase revenues for our schools and communities, reduce costs to taxpayers, and improve the health of our forests, farms and aquatic lands. 

That’s why we support House Bill 1789, which enables DNR to tap into a new source of revenue by accessing the state’s newly-created carbon exchange. Selling credits for the carbon stored in our working forests, farms and waters can bring in more revenue for beneficiaries of state trust lands and increase the value of our public lands. It will help us act on climate while supporting and enhancing our state’s forests, farmlands and waters.

DNR should be able to work in the carbon-offset markets in the same way private-sector businesses and nonprofit organizations already do. Engaging in these emerging markets would be a boon for our communities, and save taxpayer money. However, laws written long ago before carbon markets existed prevent DNR from doing so.   

This is holding Washington back, reducing the value and productivity of our forests, farms and aquatic lands, slowing down climate action and costing us money.

Under current state law, DNR can only sell “valuable materials” like timber, wheat, apples and gravel from state-owned lands. HB 1789 changes that, so the agency would be able to sell carbon sequestration and ecosystem services as well.

When DNR sells these credits, the agency would receive money from carbon-intensive industries to invest in our public lands to build a more climate-resilient state. 

For example, we have 138,000 acres of forest that have burned in the last decade. We could use carbon credits to offset the cost of post-wildfire reforestation efforts, leading to faster and more robust re-establishment of forests, which also means more wood for our mills, improved fish and wildlife habitat, and more revenue for our schools and communities.  

Our working forests are one of our state’s biggest economic engines, and a critical part of our efforts to fight climate change and reduce pollution. Washington has already lost more than 400,000 acres of working forests over the last 20 years, and is likely to lose another 600,000 acres over the next 20 years.  Allowing DNR to sell carbon credits to strengthen and enhance these lands can help keep the Evergreen State evergreen while increasing funding for every county in the state.  

The best part — this isn’t just about forests. We know that blue carbon projects, like kelp and eelgrass reforestation, can generate $35 or more per credit. This could translate into tens of millions per project to support salmon recovery, habitat resilience, and communities throughout the state. 

As the carbon market created by the 2021 Climate Commitment Act ramps up, DNR-managed lands can act as a crucial local source of high-quality carbon credits. No matter what, we should not offshore our forests, farmlands or tidelands. 

Washington is stronger because of how we have supported and used our public lands. By allowing DNR to include the sale of carbon credits, we will add a critical funding tool to support our kids and schools, restore critical salmon habitat, protect and increase working forests, and contain the harmful emissions that threaten people and our environment. 

Now that the bill is in the state Senate, we are focused on ensuring the final version is as impactful as possible. Passing this legislation will send a message to our children and our communities that we’re committed to letting Washington’s working lands work for Washington, providing clean air and water, jobs, food, sustainable building materials, and climate action.

Hilary Franz is Washington Commissioner of Public Lands; Liz Lovelett is a state Senator representing the 40th Legislative District.  

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