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State businesses worry about climate change effort

Gov. Jay Inslee Credit: Photo: John Stang

Washington's biggest business lobbying organization is skittish about what a proposed climate change task force might do.

Would that task force feel pressured to put into motion something to deal with climate change beyond just studying the matter? That question spooks the Association of Washington Business, which represents roughly 8,000 companies in the state.

"Reading between the lines … there's a desire to take action, not just to do a study. Let's modify or amend the bill," said Brandon Houskeeper, a lobbyist for the AWB.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-DesMoines and chairman of the House Environment Committee, told Houskeeper, "You have large fossil fuel companies as part of your organization." The committee held a public hearing Tuesday on the bill that Upthegrove introduced for Gov. Jay Inslee. 

Upthegrove's bill — plus a companion one in the Washington Senate —  would set up a work group that would include bipartisan representation from the House and Senate to examine how other states and nations handle carbon emissions, and to determine how Washington can deal with the matter cost-effectively. The work group would have until late this year to come up with its recommendations.

Climate change and ocean acidification are major issues to Inslee. Inslee said carbon emissions will likely cost Washington's economy $10 billion by 2020 because of health costs, smaller snowpacks feeding irrigated croplands, greenhouse gases turning the ocean more acidic to kill shellfish larvae, heat increasing the risk of forest fires and rising sea levels pushing more salt water into coastline water treatment plants. Today, the Earth's ocean's are 30 percent more acidic than they were in the 18th century, and that figure is expected to reach 150 percent by the end of the 21st century, Inslee said.

Inslee told the House committee Tuesday: "We're sitting here with a big avalanche coming at us, and we've gotta move. … I don't intend to be a dictator (of climate change remedial measures). I intend to throw the ball out on the court and say: ' Lets shoot some hoops.' "

Washington's Legislature set a goal in 2008 of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and trimming them to 25 percent below the 1990 level by 2035. So far, no follow-up has happened on that legislation. "We set a goal. We set the requirements. We did not give Washington's citizens a tool to fulfill those requirements," Inslee said.

The Republican-oriented Senate took the same bill — introduced by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island — and weakened the governor's role in the effort, removed language about seeking clean energy sources and expanded the scope to consider the state's current efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

Houskeeper said the AWB prefers the Senate version. He also pushed for the proposed task force's consultant to be hired via a request for proposals.

Committee member Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Dungeness, agreed with Inslee that the bill could help Washington develop a clean energy industry, which would boost small start-up businesses. "Isn't there a huge upside to the business community? … I understand your fear, but I don't think it is justified," Tharinger told Houskeeper.

Questions were raised in the committee on whether Washington's efforts would mean anything with China emitting vast amounts of carbon emissions. 

Inslee replied. "Sometimes Washington has to lead the world. That's who we are."

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

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