House approves Inslee's climate change task force

Gov. Jay Inslee gets his first bill through the Legislature as lawmakers say yes to a working group that will explore climate change mitigation.
Gov. Jay Inslee

Gov. Jay Inslee Tom James/Crosscut

The Washington House approved Gov. Jay Inslee's bill Monday to create a climate change task force. That's the first piece of legislation the governor has gotten through the Legislature.

Senate Bill 5802, which passed by a 61-32 margin, now heads to the governor for his signature.

The bill containing Inslee's task force proposal was introduced by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island. Earlier, senators had watered the proposal down a bit in order to pass it (37-12) in the Senate and send it on to the House.

In a written statement, the governor explained the importance of the bill: "We've seen the impact of climate change already affecting some of Washington's key industries with shellfish growers moving operations due to ocean acidification and the farmers of Eastern Washington seeing reduced water supplies as a result of reduced snow pack. This is our opportunity not only to make sure we protect those important industries, but also grow new jobs in the design and manufacturing of clean energy."

Added Ranker: "The passage of Senate Bill 5802 allows us to set up a process that moves us beyond the question of whether or not climate change is a real issue and discuss the specific actions needed to combat climate change."

The bill would establish a bipartisan working group with members from the House and Senate. The group will examine how other states and nations handle carbon emissions, and determine how Washington can deal with the matter cost-effectively. The group's recommendations are due late this year.

"We're going to look at every single model [for dealing with climate change effects], not just around the nation, but around the world," Ranker said.

In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and trimming emissions to 25 percent below the 1990 level by 2035. So far, nothing has happened.

The Republican-oriented Senate did water down Ranker's bill by weakening the governor's role in the climate change effort, removing language in the bill about seeking clean energy sources and expanding the scope to consider the state's current efforts to reduce carbon emissions. 

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, had introduced a clone of Ranker's bill in the House. But Democrats decided to play it safe and stick with the Senate version, Ranker said.

Climate change and ocean acidification are major issues for Inslee. He has argued that carbon emissions will likely cost Washington's economy $10 billion by 2020 due to increased health costs, smaller snowpacks feeding irrigated croplands, greenhouse gases acidifying the ocean and killing shellfish larvae, higher temperatures raising the risk of forest fires and rising sea levels pushing more salt water into coastal water treatment plants. Today, the Earth's oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were in the 18th century. That figure is expected to reach 150 percent by the end of the 21st century,

Major, business-backed opposition to the bill centered on skepticism that actions taken in Washington would have any effect on the worldwide climate change problem. 

But, countered Inslee a few weeks ago, "Sometimes Washington has to lead the world."
 

John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.


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