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Green Spokane? Inslee receives support on climate

Gov. Jay Inslee Credit: Governor's Office

The red part of Washington was actually quite green Wednesday.

Sixty-three of 85 people testifying before Gov. Jay Inslee's climate change panel supported the state taking some action to fight global warming's effect on Washington. Twelve opposed such action. The rest could not be neatly pigeonholed. About 225 people attended the public hearing in Spokane Wednesday evening.

Inslee and Democrats on the panel are much more eager to take strong action on global warming than the panel's Republican legislators. The public support in the heart of Republican territory will certainly be welcome for Inslee, although it's hard to know if it will produce momentum for strong recommendations from the panel when it wraps up its work shortly. 

"We want you to know, Governor, that we've got your back," said Todd Eklof of Spokane.

"We're actually changing the temperature and acidity of the oceans. … That harms the state's economy. How do we justify that?" said Ed Reynolds of Spokane.

Rene Holliday of the Spokane area retorted: "We need to address the fact that global warming doesn't exist." About 25 people applauded her.

"Let's not pretend that problems with carbon dioxide emissions don't exist," countered Carol Bryan of the Spokane area.

Others worried about climate change-oriented rules sending Washington jobs elsewhere. "Find out the costs of the policies you are considering. Then come back and ask the public for input," said Michael Cathcart of the Spokane Homebuilders Association. 

In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions to 25 percent below Washington's 1990 level by 2035 and to 50 percent below by 2050. So far, nothing has happened. If no new remedial measures are tackled and the state' population growth continues, state discharges will blast away all the goals for reductions set five years ago. Early this year, Inslee successfully lobbied the Legislature to set up a task force to map out how those goals can be reached. The task force is supposed to have recommendations for the state Legislature by Dec. 31.

The task force — composed of Inslee; Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver and filling in for Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island; Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy; and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien — is holding two hearings about the public's ideas on dealing with climate change before coming up with a draft report on Dec. 6. Wednesday's Spokane forum was the first hearing. The second is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Wednesday at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center on 2211 Alaskan Way in Seattle.

While King County is heavily Democratic, northeastern Washington is overwhelmingly Republican with the exception of central Spokane.

The Spokane hearing's biggest concern was coal-bearing trains potentially using a pair of Washington ports to export coal to China, something that has encountered significant opposition around the state over greenhouse gas emissions and other issues. Twenty-one speakers opposed that plan, while one supported it.

Beyond coal, support and opposition to various potential new policies were fragmented.

Of the 13 possible new policies that could be used in Washington to combat carbon dioxide emissions, three have the biggest potential significant reductions — cap-and-trade, a carbon tax and low-carbon fuel standards.

The most potent proposed policy would be to install a cap-and-trade program in which Washington would have an overall annual limit to its carbon dioxide emissions. Limits would be set for specific geographic areas. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas. And the companies would be able to swap, buy and sell their rights to each other. Inslee likes this approach because the market would be the prime mover in combating increased carbon dioxide emissions. 

A carbon tax is simply a levy on a firm's carbon dioxide emissions, and it is supposed to inspire a business to decrease its emissions. Since transportation emissions account for 44 percent of Washington's carbon dioxide output, requiring lower carbon levels in fuel mixes would help. The other 10 potential measures address public transit, wind power, ocean power, other clean energy sources, landfill methane capture, plus technical tweaks in fuels and vehicles.

Some of the themes came up with at least a handful of speakers include:

  • Almost no support for a cap-and-trade approach, but some enthusiasm for a carbon tax.
  • Some support for using reduced-carbon fuel.
  • Interest in having Inslee's panel look into a 2009 attempt by Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, to create a cap-and-dividend system to control carbon emissions dubbed the "CLEAR Act."
  • Suggestions that stricter enforcement of the Growth Management Act and more fighting of urban sprawl will decrease the need for vehicles to drive longer distances with their carbon emissions.

There was coolness toward a recent trial balloon that Washington might expand nuclear power beyond the one Energy Northwest reactor at Richland. Nuclear power does not have carbon emissions. But several people were skittish about the troubled history of the Energy Northwest reactor.

A handful of people said global warming is a hoax. "The government wants millions of dollars in global warming taxes," said Ken Garceau of the Spokane area. Three people suggested that the United Nations' Agenda 21 is behind Inslee's push to combat climate change.  Created in 1992, Agenda 21 is a 300-page document that addresses sustainable development efforts. The United States signed the Agenda 21 agreement, which is non-binding.  Despite its non-binding status, some property rights advocates claim Agenda 21's policies have seeped into state and local government regulations, such as requiring stream setbacks for construction.

Even without an Agenda 21-related theory, several did not like the state government dictating what they could do. "These goals, these outcomes are changing human behavior. It takes away our freedoms," said Pend Oreille County Commissioner Karen Scoog.

George Taylor of Spokane countered: "The global warming issue — if we don't get a handle on it, all other issues will be moot."

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

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