Inslee to get climate bill, one of his top priorities

bshannon@theolympian.comMarch 26, 2013 

The state House voted by a two-to-one margin Monday to send Gov. Jay Inslee a watered-down version of the climate-study bill the first-year governor sought to help chart the state’s future responses to global warming.

The 62-to-31 vote – which included eight Republicans in favor – gives Inslee a start on an issue near and dear to him. It was the first of his bill requests to pass both chambers, and he could sign it as soon as early next week, aides said.

But Senate Bill 5802 was less than Inslee hoped for: The Democrat wanted language in the bill, which Republicans in the Senate had removed, spelling out Washington’s vulnerability to rising global temperatures, ocean acidity and shrinking snowpack.

“It was a cost-benefit – do we get this done and get the conversation started? Or do we want to continue to rework both the framing of the conversation, which is the intent language, as well as the specific processes,” Inslee’s legislative director Ted Sturdevant said before the vote.

SB 5802 has an emergency clause, which means work can begin as soon as Inslee signs it.

The bill authorizes the governor to convene a bipartisan legislative study group – which can hire a third-party independent consultant to do an assessment of what strategies can work – as early as April. The effort will cost $627,500, an expense that includes the consultant’s study intended to help legislators on the study group complete their recommendations by year’s end.

Several climate skeptics in the House Republican caucus offered amendments that were rejected by the Democratic majority. Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw attacked what she sees as failures of taxpayer-subsidized solar energy firms and pushed for an amendment requiring a study of the long-term viability of the solar industry.

Others sought to boost the role of hydro power in the state’s energy portfolio. One warned that costs from controlling carbon emissions could “decimate” the transportation sector, which is blamed for most of Washington’s greenhouse gases.

In the end, even some climate skeptics such as Republican Rep. Shelly Short of Addy voted in favor. Short said Washington accounts for just 0.3 percent of global emissions, but she does not dispute the negative impacts of a warming globe such as acidifying oceans or smaller snowpack needed for irrigation.

“I think we are going to know the economic impacts of these policies,” Short said. “I think once and for all we will know if our policies are having an effect … and whether they are working.”

Short said other states are pulling back on policies that haven’t worked.

Top environmental groups hailed the passage of the bill, which had been one of the environmental coalition’s top priorities this year. The Department of Ecology estimates the economic cost of doing nothing to reduce carbon dioxide pollution is $9.5 billion a year by 2020 – with $7.5 billion of it tied to agriculture and the loss of water storage as snowpack declines.

Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale had removed language describing the threat of climate change from the original bill, saying he wanted to take the “religion” out of the carbon debate. Under the GOP’s changes, Inslee remains as chairman of the legislative work group but is no longer a voting member, and three of four legislative caucuses must embrace recommendations.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, a Des Moines Democrat and sponsor of Inslee’s bill in the House, wanted a stronger bill. But he said saw value in compromise. That is because the bill requires lawmakers of both parties to work together through the remainder of the year on recommendations.

In a floor speech, he spoke more urgently. “Our constituents are seeing the effects of climate change in their day to day lives – extreme weather, rising temperatures and the economic cost that results,” Upthegrove said. “They are hungry for leadership and solutions and I am confident our state can lead the way.”

The consultant to be hired would look at what other states and jurisdictions have done to reduce greenhouse gases – and what the costs could be. Different approaches are being deployed worldwide, including California’s cap-and-trade system for selling pollution credits and British Columbia’s carbon tax.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 Download the Capital Update app for iPad and iPhone for a seven-day free trial.

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