Politics & Government

Top Republicans say they want to reduce Washington carbon emissions, too

Gov. Jay Inslee made sure that climate change would be at the forefront of the 2015 legislative session when he tied a proposed charge on large emitters of carbon dioxide to the state’s budget problems.

His Republican critics had mostly downplayed the importance of the issue, saying as recently as Tuesday that Washington’s carbon footprint is one of the smallest of all states.

But on Wednesday, Republicans who control the state Senate jumped into the discussion of how to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Sen. Doug Ericksen and other senators from both parties outlined a plan for promoting “carbon reduction investments” such as electric-vehicle chargers, natural-gas plants, power conservation and state ferry boats that run on natural gas.

“We don’t need to jack up the cost of electricity and fuel and hope the pain of these energy taxes will force our low-income citizens to use less,” Ericksen, R-Ferndale, said in a statement handed out at a news conference on his plan. “We have a better way.”

That was a swipe at Democrat Inslee’s cap-and-trade plan, although Ericksen said cap-and-trade is on a separate track and would get a hearing in the committee he leads if the proposal is first endorsed by the Democrat-led House.

Democratic leaders say cap-and-trade would make sure 130 of the state’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases pay for contributing to global climate change, while raising about $1 billion a year for schools, mass transit and other state needs. They say it would put the Legislature on track to comply with its 2008 promises to reduce emissions in phases.

Because companies could pass costs to customers in the prices of gas and power, Ericksen has criticized cap-and-trade as a “tax on freedom” – as in freedom to pay low energy prices and save money for other purchases of one’s choice. Republicans have also panned a clean-fuel standard that Inslee is considering.

Environmentalists said the actions Ericksen would promote may be fine, but the way he would do it would undermine the ballot measure on renewable energy voters passed in 2006.

A committee led by Ericksen planned to take testimony Thursday (Feb. 5) on the centerpiece of the Republican proposal, his own Senate Bill 5735. It would give electric utilities new options for meeting the energy standards, which today require utilities to either generate a set share of their power from renewable sources such as wind or buy credits from those who do.

Under the plan, utilities could choose to instead comply by tackling carbon emissions – the equivalent of one energy credit for every half-metric-ton of carbon dioxide “reduced, prevented, or removed from the atmosphere.”

For example, Puget Sound Energy could be allowed to count spending on a plant it plans to build on the Tacoma Tideflats to serve as a source of liquefied natural gas for transportation needs. Ericksen’s bill calls out just such a use.

Utilities could also satisfy requirements by paying the state to help convert its ferry fleet to liquefied natural gas power. Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, said that conversion alone would make a major dent in emissions.

Clifford Traisman, lobbyist for a coalition of environmental groups, called Ericksen’s proposal a “cynical” change to Initiative 937. Voters passed the initiative to diversify Washington’s energy sources and create green jobs, not just reduce emissions, Traisman said.

It’s the same worries that have stopped past GOP proposals to change the initiative to give more recognition to Washington’s biggest power source, hydroelectric dams.

“It’s indisputable we’ve had close to or over an $8 billion investment in Washington State in clean energy jobs” because of the initiative, Traisman said.

Ericksen said while that spending has created several thousand jobs, much of the money has gone to expensive wind infrastructure.

Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, backed his proposal, partly because it allows utilities to meet their requirements by conserving electricity. But she said cap-and-trade must be considered, too.

“We know and accept that everything must be on the table,” Chase said.