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Inslee's climate effort will face steep odds

Commentary: Gov. Jay Inslee is genuinely devoted to addressing climate issues. But is he relying on a strategy that has already missed its time?
Can Jay Inslee win a climate package that protects the environment without subjecting his party to charges of killing jobs?

Can Jay Inslee win a climate package that protects the environment without subjecting his party to charges of killing jobs? Matthew Simantov/Flickr

After months of quiet conversations between leaders in Washington state government, environmental NGOs and other key climate-related interests to shape a climate policy proposal, the deal is now on the public table. Gov. Jay Inslee will pursue a carbon cap-and-trade program in the state Legislature next year, with specific details to be nailed down by a task force appointed by the governor. 

Inslee’s climate plan announced April 29 includes a number of other measures for clean fuels, coal plant shutdowns, energy efficiency, electric vehicles and clean technology. But the carbon market is the biggie, and the one most likely to run up on the shoals of political and climate reality. 

The governor and his allies want to replicate climate policy successes in other states, although those took place in a starkly different political climate. The two carbon frameworks in existence in the United States, the California cap-and-trade system and the Northeast states Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-trade for power plants, were products of unique moments.

The climate policy successes were genuine bipartisan efforts backed by centrist Republican governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and, in the Northeast, George Pataki of New York. They emerged in the 2003-05 period, when the economy was soaring on the housing boom. Like the boom, the bipartisan moment has passed. Republicans have hardened the lines against any kind of carbon pricing. 

When Inslee's climate proposal hits the Legislature, Republicans will likely line up hard against it. They will see too much of a political opportunity to portray the governor and his allies as proponents of a job-killing energy tax. Victory-hungry Republicans will sniff the chance to bloody Inslee and other Democratic electeds in the 2016 election. The pressure on individual Republican legislators against breaking ranks will be intense. 

Thus, as with passage of the Affordable Care Act in Congress, Democratic ranks will have to be as solid for a climate bill as Republicans are against it. But many Democratic legislators from moderate and swing districts will be hesitant, if not purely opposed. They will be caught between Seattle environmentalists, with whom the measure will be mostly closely associated, and their own voters, who have little love for latte sipping downtown liberals. In timber industry districts the tree wars of the 1980s and '90s are well remembered, and environmentalists are blamed for high unemployment that was a chronic problem even before the Great Recession. The pressure on individual Democratic legislators to break ranks with the governor will be as intense as the pressure on Republicans to stay united. Guess who wins. 

The Washington Legislature did pass a climate bill with long-term carbon limits in the 2008 session, when Democrats held wide margins in both houses. But it was a cap without teeth, really more of a way to set up a sense of momentum going into the federal climate bill fight of 2009-10. The federal bill failed because of unified opposition by Republicans allied with fossil fuel and industrial state Democrats who know where their bread is buttered. 

Now the climate community is fighting the war again at the state level. But even if the Democrats can regain control of the state Senate, they likely will have less of a margin than in 2008. Gov. Inslee, an acknowledged and real climate champion, will carry the ball as best he can. But can he get the numbers to add up in the Legislature?  It looks like a hard uphill climb to gain legislative victory.

So the next move likely would be to the ballot, attempting to replicate the success of Initiative 937 in bringing a renewable electricity standard to Washington. The potential for ballot success was raised by California hedge fund billionaire and liberal funder Tom Steyer when he keynoted the Climate Solutions annual breakfast in Seattle last year. Steyer talked about ballot measures as an end run around recalcitrant legislatures, citing his own success in a California energy efficiency measure. Inslee himself raised the possibility of a ballot run in a recent climate forum at the University of Washington.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, May 14, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

"a World War II-scale mobilization of national and global resources"

I agree, but it won't happen until we're at least half-way off the cliff.

louploup

Posted Wed, May 14, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

I wonder how effective General Inslee and the Washington National Guard would've been storming Normandy on, say, June 6, 1943.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, May 14, 11:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Ordinary people in extraordinary times, etc.

louploup

Posted Wed, May 14, 1:42 p.m. Inappropriate

No mention of population growth. Worthless debate.

Stop population growth. Then you might have a shot at some modest progress to reduce pollution.

Lincoln

Posted Wed, May 14, 1:49 p.m. Inappropriate

It's worse than you think. Not only is there no mention of population growth, but Jay Inslee and the Democrat Cartel are actively encouraging population into the region. This while researchers at Oregon State University have determined the NUMBER ONE THREAT to PNW salmon and their habitats is increased immigration into the region (the vast majority of which comes from outside the US and Canada). Our local D-voting minions are too shallow thinking (or blinded by dogma) to see the disconnect between The Party's immigration plank and environmental plank. While Jay is pretending to save the world, his Party is trashing the State.

BlueLight

Posted Wed, May 14, 9:34 p.m. Inappropriate

The trouble with politicians is they are confined by their mind to see solutions that fit their political bias. Inslee hasn't the vision to see or venture outside of his comfort box.

This is an idea and a plan that has been floating around for a year or so. It's designed for NYC but Seattle would be a better fit for a first time go at implementing something on a very large scale. I'm sure it's doable but the cost will probably be in the trillions, but if Inslee and his fellow travelers are serious, time to look at serious ideas and concepts instead of playing patty cake with the legislators in Olympia.

http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf

This is the crib note version.
http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/16540-a-fossil-fuel-free-new-york-state-by-2050

Djinn

Posted Thu, May 15, 4:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Jacobsen has done work in other states including Washington. This kind of transformation is exactly what I'm calling for in the article.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/february/fifty-states-renewables-022414.html

Posted Thu, May 15, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

With Governor Inslee the voters got exactly what he said they would get: increased environmental initiatives and opposition to anything that the teacher's union opposed, especially charter schools and Obama administration initiatives like Race to the Top. Kudos to Inslee for saying what he would do and then doing it.

The challenge on cap and trade is perhaps a hurdle too high. It would be nice - in the interim and before the grand strategy rolls out with a divided legislature and a populace that does not see carbon cap and trade like the Governor - to have a few intermediate wins.

One win would be to suspend the issuance of permits and licenses for new oil projects until more environmental analysis is prepared and cumulative impacts. This has yet to be done. A programmatic EIS would be better and is warranted.

The department of ecology is purported to say it lacks such authority. Balderdash. The governor is the leader on protecting the health of citizens and the environment. Begin rule making and a SEPA analysis at the same time. And if someone sued the Governor and argued lack of authority, there would be a strong argument that such authority does exist and I for one like to be arguing the case for protecting the public against those who would put it at risk until adequate analysis and safeguards are in place. If you lose that case, stand tall; if you never try that approach, you are diminished.

Posted Thu, May 15, 9:36 p.m. Inappropriate

All I was able to take away from the article was spending some billionaires money on more politics that have and are leading nowhere.

Jacobsen's plan isn't quite shovel ready but it's much closer then anything else out there. Plus it's based more on science, where as, most other alternatives are purely political. You can't solve a science problem with politics, all you can do is kick the can down the road till you accidentally run into a solution to the problem.

Djinn

Posted Fri, May 16, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

China will neutralize any and all efforts to make climate change legislation useful in Washington State. Especially if we block coal to China. They will strip mine Africa without any of the standards we could ask of them if we sell our coal to them.

And fundamentally then we will get all the bad coal pollution drifting to the west coast from China.

People aren't thinking progressively or globally.

pdx

Posted Sat, May 17, 8:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Most folks seem more interested in creating a warm and fuzzy feeling inside, instead actually facing the enormity of the problem. Both sides are equally guilty of this type of action.

Djinn

Posted Sun, May 18, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

A New Apollo Project tries to get at the enormity. See my part 2 at http://crosscut.com/2014/05/15/climate/120086/inslee-needs-light-fire-climate-change/?_cs=1#c55256

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