As Gov. Jay Inslee presses an ambitious carbon-tax plan for Washington state, two of his climate-change policy advisers have drawn scrutiny.
The attention to Inslee’s office also comes as his national profile rises. He’s been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, and even named as a possible contender for the Democratic presidential or vice-presidential nomination in 2020.
One Inslee staffer, Chris Davis, a senior adviser for climate and energy affairs, has been with the governor’s office since 2014 – but has recently been working remotely from Africa.
This summer, Davis moved to Morocco after his wife took a teaching job in Marrakech – and continued his work from there.
“As our climate work has grown increasingly international in scope, the Governor asked me to continue to help build those networks from abroad,” Davis wrote in a June email explaining the arrangement to his colleagues.
Davis wrote that he would be “working remotely, managing our increasingly numerous commitments to multistate and international networks focused on climate action and clean energy.” He called his new situation “a novel arrangement.”
A Wall Street Journal editorial last week highlighted Davis’ move and questioned expenses and carbon emissions of a trip Davis made last fall from Morocco to Washington state.
“Perhaps Washington residents should ask who is paying for Chris Davis’ intercontinental carbon emissions,” the editorial said.
Davis did not immediately respond to an email Friday afternoon seeking comment.
Jaime Smith, Inslee’s executive director of communications, defended the telecommuting arrangement. Davis has been a trusted adviser on climate issues, she said, for example working on Inslee’s recently proposed carbon tax.
“We didn’t actually send him to Morocco, and it turns out he can work for us from there,” she said, citing “the amazing invention called the internet.”
Smith said the governor’s office is monitoring the work “to make sure it works well for him and well for us – and so far it has.”
An editorial this week in The Wall Street Journal raised questions about Reed Schuler, another of Inslee’s climate advisers.
Schuler joined the governor’s staff last year and is one of two advisers who briefed news organizations Tuesday on the governor’s ambitious carbon-tax proposal.
Schuler’s position is funded through a grant from the World Resources Institute.
Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the institute is a nonprofit organization working on environmental issues. In 2015, it had $108 million in assets, according to tax records.
Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, said he hadn’t known the governor’s office funded any positions with outside money – and was troubled by the lack of disclosure.
“I don’t know enough (to know) if it’s inherently problematic,” said Stokesbary, a ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
But, “the main issue is complete lack of transparency from the governor’s office,” he said.
Schuler’s position isn’t the first in the governor’s office to be funded with outside money, said Tara Lee, another Inslee spokeswoman.
Two current Inslee staffers were previously funded through grants, according to Lee. In those grant-funded positions, Julie Horowitz did work surrounding shellfish and Jim Baumgart worked on homelessness, she wrote in an email.
Another grant position focused on aerospace existed in the governor’s office for a short period before that job was moved to the state Department of Commerce, Lee said.
“Regarding the use of philanthropic funds, we are happy that public/private partnerships allow us to fill critical gaps,” Lee wrote.
Schuler “is subject to the same legal and ethical requirements as any other state employee,” she added later.
The spotlight on Inslee’s advisers comes amid the governor’s push for Washington lawmakers to approve his sweeping carbon-tax plan in this year’s legislative session.
Meanwhile, the governor traveled across the country – and the world – last year to speak on or attend conferences about climate change.
In March, Inslee spoke before the United Nations in New York City about climate change. He returned to the East Coast in September to attend Climate Week NYC events, and the Yale Climate Forum in Connecticut.
In November, the governor traveled to Europe, which included a stop in Bonn, Germany, to attend a United Nations conference on climate change.