Olympia Report: AI and Decarbonizing our Ferries


The news might have you believe that artificial intelligence (AI) is coming for our jobs; lawmakers, including those in Olympia, seem to agree its downstream effects on the economy call for action.

Folks at leading consulting firms like McKinsey & Company believe 2023 may be a breakout year for AI. Fears over the bots penning screenplays was a background issue in the Hollywood writers’ strike this year and spurred lawsuits from world-renowned authors for consuming their work. It’s probably crossed the minds of a few journalists too. 

The Washington state Senate Labor & Commerce Committee sat down last Tuesday with the people who stand to gain (and lose) in a world run by AI overlords. Among them was Rik Deskin with SAG-AFTRA¹, better known as the Screen Actors Guild, which includes many of our sisters and brothers in broadcast news. Deskin spoke on the prospect of Hollywood copyrighting and manipulating actors’ likenesses with AI. As far as Deskin was concerned, actors and AI could live side by side under three tenets—control, credit, and compensation. That means giving actors the final say over selling their souls, keeping their names on the silver screen, and getting paid for it.

Among the other issues raised on Tuesday included the conundrum of bots running HR functions. That issue was raised by Cherika Carter, Secretary-Treasurer with the Washington State Labor Council, an umbrella group for many of the state’s labor unions. That could boil down to discriminatory hiring practices and pushing inhuman work quotas. Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, paid special attention to the latter issue as the sponsor of a bill aimed at easing life for warehouse workers this year.²

Other figures from the tech sector like Stephanie Beers with Microsoft, and Laura Ruderman³ with the Tech Alliance (a conglomerate of Big Tech players and think tanks), naturally hailed AI as our would-be assistants, not our new masters.

Ewan Duncan with McKinsey & Company reminded lawmakers on Tuesday that people working in-person jobs — particularly teaching, nursing, and construction — won’t likely see a bot replace them at work anytime soon given the face-to-face contact and skills those jobs demand.

The common theme among those speaking to the committee on Tuesday was that AI is here to stay, stressed by Bob Battles with the Association of Washington Business. Battles told lawmakers if AI is regulated, then it should be through the Attorney General’s office or a state agency, given the odds of small businesses getting bled dry in private court battles.

Disclosure seemed to be the chief issue that Labor & Commerce members took the most interest in, maybe in the hopes that some public shaming could discourage nefarious parties from using AI for, say, political attack ads or harassment campaigns. Any potential bills to that effect are forthcoming.

Washington’s push to decarbonize ferries inches forward

Ferry riders commuting from Seattle to Bainbridge can expect to board a greener ride before the end of the decade as the state electrifies its ferry fleet.

Our ferry system is the largest in the nation thanks to that giant body of water that divides Western Washington, not to mention the folks who insist on living on islands⁴. It also accounts for a big slice of the state’s carbon emissions thanks to those big old-school diesel engines.

The state threw about $1.34 billion at the problem as part of its 2022 Move Ahead Washington transportation spending package. That means electrifying 16 terminals, building 16 new vessels, and converting six existing vessels. The work is slow-going, but according to WSDOT’s briefing on Wednesday, we’re going to see results soon. Washington aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century. Folks riding electric ferries are a big part of that plan.  

Part of the work will see the state churn out hybrid ferries before it launches full-on electric ones. Seattle-Bainbridge ferry riders should see hybrid ferries as early as 2025 and full-electric ones by 2027-28. (We should note here that the ferry system has a long history of construction delays and cost overruns, so take all these dates with a sizeable chunk of salt.)

Folks on the Clinton-Mukilteo route will wait longer for a greener commute. Partial electrification is due by 2027 and full-electric rides won’t hit the water until 2029 at best.

Virtually every other route is going to wait many more years to board a full-on electric ferry. The Seattle-Bremerton route won’t see one make its maiden voyage until 2032 at best. The same goes for the Tacoma to Vashon Island run. Port Townsend-Coupeville and West Seattle-Southworth-Vashon riders will see theirs electrified circa 2034. The Edmonds-Kingston ferry will see theirs by 2033. The San Juan Islands routes — some of the longest rides in the system won’t see electric rides until 2037.


1. The union remains on strike against the major studios at the time of this writing for many of the reasons Deskin outlined. 

2. A similar bill from Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, ultimately passed in its stead.

3. Ruderman served in the Legislature in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, representing a tech-heavy East King County district.

4. We care about this a great deal at Observer World Headquarters on ferry-dependent Vashon Island.

This article first appeared in The Washington Observer.


  1. I’m disappointed that the Washington Ferry electrification project doesn’t appear to include hydrogen fuel cell technology. With Douglas County’s green hydrogen production facility coming on line, it would seem like a perfect partnership. Fuel cells are ideal for large transport and should not be ignored.

  2. A1 is real – not Y2K. But what our State can do about it, other than inform the public by holding hearings and either praising or wringing hands is less certain..
    As for electric ferries, you may have unintentionally nailed it when you wrote “The state threw about $1.34 billion at the problem.” Hope this works well, as we cross the waters to net zero.


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