Republicans and Democrats serving on Gov. Jay inslee’s climate change workgroup have unveiled starkly different proposals for how Washington might meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, 2030 and 2050.
While Inslee, Sen. Kevin Ranker and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon all want a Washington-style cap on carbon emissions and a way to let the market distribute costs, the two Republicans are going in a far different direction that includes incentives for more hydroelectric power generation, conservation and use of nuclear power to replace fossil fuels.
Both sides clashed last Friday as we reported here – with Republican Rep. Shelly Short of Addy objecting to Inslee’s pressure to embrace clear recommendations for action in the 2014 legislative session. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale said action was premature without more details on costs.
The two contrasting views meet head-on again on Friday afternoon in Olympia where the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup holds its third and final public hearing at 2 p.m. in the John L. O’Brien Building next door to the domed Capitol. The four voting legislators on the panel are scheduled to hear public opinion and then chart a course of action for the state on Dec. 18 – including possible recommendations for legislative action in 2014.
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Business interests led by the Association of Washington Business are scheduled to make presentations, and so are environmentalists, who have organized high turnout at two other hearings around the state.
Clearly Inslee’s team wants to start taking immediate action, believing a cap and trade program can boost the economy and jobs in the green energy sector. They also favor work to phase out use locally of coal power produced in Montana, to encourage higher-performing "smart" buildings that use little or no net energy, and to help finance clean energy with money going into university research and help for utilities and businesses.
But in a sign of a possible change in position since October, Inslee may be backing away from seeking a low-carbon fuel standard, which the oil refinery and trucking industries strongly oppose. The Democrats’ proposal does not specifically mention it in a section that talks about a more efficient transportation system that uses cleaner fuels and is helped along by land-use planning.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said “no decision has been made about fuel standards and much work and analysis has to happen before any decision is made about which policies should be pursued to reduce carbon pollution.’’
Ericksen and Short are still frustrated they can’t get more detail on the effectiveness of current climate policies and the economic impacts of new policies. Their proposal includes a matrix prepared by Ericksen last week that cites studies to show cap and trade adds costs to households, particularly low-income households.
The divergent views in the two plans suggest that lawmakers have too little in common to offer the Legislature a clear recommendation for action in 2014, which Inslee wants. The main area where the parties overlap is a shared interest in promoting research and development of alternative energy sources.
But a suggestion by the GOP to revisit the state emission targets set in 2008 is likely to be rejected out of hand by Inslee, who pointed out last week that the legal task of the workgroup is to recommend realistic and economic ways to meet those targets.
“We must also act to protect our economy, where the dangers of carbon pollution threaten the basic resources that sustain our economy. No state is more blessed, so no state has more economically to lose: the best oyster industry is now the most threatened; the best apple industry is now the most sensitive to loss of irrigation; and the best forest products industry is now the most endangered by fire,” the Democrats’ six-page proposal says in its long preamble.
On the other side, Ericksen and Short say the seven-month time frame given to the workgroup – which began work in May – has provided too little time to explore the potentially damaging costs of new policies without knowing how much good the old ones accomplished.
“In general, as legislators, it is our responsibility to carefully consider the potential costs, alongside the benefits, of any policies that we might adopt. It is imperative that we know how policies might impact families, affect their household costs and living expenses, and impact their ability to get or keep their jobs,” Ericksen and Short wrote.
They added that climate policies “would be far-reaching, and could potentially inflict more harm to the state’s economy and competitiveness, its businesses, and its families than many of the more limited policies that legislators consider on a routine basis.”
The Republicans also questioned the value of the remedies, arguing that “the adoption of these policies by Washington would do very little to mitigate global climate variability, and … nothing to mitigate any impacts of global climate variability on Washington state.”
Still undecided is a suggestion that the workgroup continue its work in a new guise – as a task force that would meet in 2014.
Security officers have reserved all five hearings rooms in the O’Brien building to handle any overflow crowds. Stay tuned.