Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate-change workgroup hit a wall recently with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the panel taking markedly different approaches to reducing carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming. The two sides put out rival written plans last week prior to a Dec. 13 public hearing, and a majority testifying at the hearing gave strong support for action that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
But where the climate panel – known as the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, or CLEW – goes from here is a question. It was supposed to meet Wednesday [Dec. 18] to hammer out final recommendations for action by the 2014 Legislature, and the meeting was canceled so that Inslee and four voting lawmakers on the panel could keep working on a path forward.
Where that now leads is quite unclear although Inslee and one Republican on the panel say they are developing a framework for a potential agreement that could lead to a majority report and recommendations by the CLEW panel.
Inslee and Democrats on CLEW have argued for a cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and letting industries that lower emissions below the cap to trade or sell their excess capacity to industries still exceeding limits. California has such a system just getting off the ground, but the Republicans hate it - preferring a look at conservation, new hydroelectric capacity and nuclear power.
Asked about the situation, Inslee told The Olympian’s editorial board Wednesday morning during a meeting about the state budget that he was not giving up on an environmental issue where the scientific evidence of harm is so strong and urgent. The first-year Democratic governor said he is very frustrated by what he sees as Republicans’ willingness to turn back the clock on emission-reduction goals.
What rankled him most was the GOP’s suggestion – in the draft Republican plan outlined last week for CLEW – that the state could revisit (and presumably water down) the climate goals set in 2008. Inslee wants both parties to forge ahead to enact policies that let the state reduce carbon pollution and meet goals written into law for 2020, 2030 and 2050. But he perceives that the GOP doesn’t want to act.
“I want to look at it through an optimistic lens and what’s the thing that could happen that would be inspiring,” Inslee told the editorial board (I sat in as a reporter). “Here’s something that could be really inspiring, I think, is if we see [at least] one … Republican in the state Legislature who will decide to be a leader on this issue and decide to lead their party into an honest discussion about how we address this (climate) issue. And to have one Republican decide to look in the mirror and see Teddy Roosevelt, that’ll be a really great thing for our state, our country and the world, because there is a huge vacuum there.’’
Roosevelt, of course, was the great Republican conservationist president who championed efforts to build national parks and set aside lands as national monuments early in the 1900s. Inslee said he thinks the public would welcome such a move by one or more lawmakers – declaring that the public is far ahead of the Republican Party on the climate issue.
Republicans, of course, weren’t jumping for joy at Inslee’s diagnosis.
State Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, who along with Republican Rep. Shelly Short of Addy has been serving on Inslee’s CLEW climate panel, said they have actually put a proposal on the table that could reduce state emissions and reach state goals by 2030.
Those ideas - as mentioned above - include greater conservation, expanded hydroelectric power, and expanded use of nuclear power. But they also suggest the state could revisit and loosen the emissions targets set in 2008.
“My response is we put out a proposal to reduce carbon. If Gov. Inslee wants someone to break ranks and endorse cap and trade not knowing the impact on jobs, the economy, household expenses … it’s not going to happen,’’ Ericksen said. “We haven’t endorsed his cap and trade proposal.”
Under the state’s 2008 law, the emissions would be cut to 1990 levels by 2020 and even further at each of the following mileposts. But the state isn't going to reach them without new curbs, according to analysis by independent consultants that CLEW hired.
Ericksen also said that although Gov. Inslee, Sen. Kevin Ranker and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon’s CLEW recommendations include a cap-and-trade system, they haven’t spelled out how it would function.
All Inslee and the two Democrats on the panel have said is they want to move ahead to explore what a cap and trade system could look like - and how one could function in Washington where the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, about 44 percent, come from transportation sources. But Ericksen and Short have balked at that, so far.
Despite those differences, both Inslee and Ericksen glimpsed progress on Wednesday. Both said the parties are still talking and exploring a way for CLEW to assemble a final report. After CLEW members had phone conversations, Ericksen said, “we reached an agreement in concept, a pathway forward.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor reported “it was a good conversation. They agreed to keep talking and look for a path forward … So they still may put out a joint report.’’
A joint report to the Legislature “wouldn’t be 100 percent consensus” but the CLEW group’s work “is not over” with the cancellation of Wednesday's meeting, Postman said.
Ericksen agreed it is possible the two rival parties on CLEW can come to some kind of agreement for a majority report to the Legislature. “I think conceptually we agreed to a framework that would continue the CLEW process,” Ericksen said.
Among the half-dozen or more ideas the group would continue looking at in greater depth might be cap and trade, nuclear power, expanded use of hydroelectricity and other concepts, Ericksen said. He also said research and development is an area to explore for the transportation sector that causes the biggest single share (44 percent) of greenhouse gas pollutants in Washington.
“It would narrow the scope of work then go into more depth and detail in terms of how (policy ideas) would be applied in Washington and what the cost of any of these recommendations would be,” Ericksen explained. “It casts the net a little narrower and deeper so to speak.’’
In his conversations with the editorial board, Inslee sounded like a man who won’t be content until he is able to win passage of a big policy change – a big idea turned into law.
Besides Roosevelt, he invoked the memory of modern Republicans – from President Richard Nixon, who presided over creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, to former Weyerhaeuser executive Bill Ruckelshaus who served as the first EPA administrator, and to former Gov. Dan Evans, under whose tenure the state Department of Ecology and The Evergreen State College were born.
“Everybody is potentially a person who could decide to be as forceful and inspiring and courageous as Teddy Roosevelt in that (Republican) party right now,” ” Inslee said. “And we know that party is capable of producing such leaders … There is no reason why we can’t have somebody in that party decide to call its party to arms and say let’s make this party a positive player on the most economically efficient way to create the most jobs. This (push for alternatives to fossil fuel energy) will create jobs and is creating jobs. This is not said enough. The climate change industry today, which is the clean energy industry, is producing jobs at twice the rate of growth as the rest of the United States economy.”