Inslee pushes for look at climate options

The governor goes to the Legislature to push personally for a broad look at how to battle global warming.
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Gov. Jay Inslee

The governor goes to the Legislature to push personally for a broad look at how to battle global warming.

Gov. Jay Inslee is personally pushing for a task force to find out if there are cost-effectve ways for Washington to reduce its carbon emissions.

The new governor spoke Wednesday to the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, which is considering a bill by Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, to set up such a group.

So far, the bill, SB 5802, appears to have enough reception from across the aisle to give it a chance to pass the Republican-oriented Senate — a tougher hurdle than the Democrat-controlled House.

"We want an open discussion with no preordained ideas," said Sen.Rodney Tom, D-Medina, leader of the 23-Republican-two-Democrat alliance that controls the Senate.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island and a co-sponsor of the bill, said: "People are all over (on carbon emissions) the map. This is an effort to get everyone at the table."

Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoelser, R-Ritzville, declined to comment on the proposal. House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt said the House Republicans will be involved setting up such a task force force, but he contended that forest fires caused more carbon emissions than a coal plant. DeBolt works for TransAlta, which owns a coal power plant in Centralia, and he is on the board for the Association of Washington Businesses, which opposes Ranker's bill. 

Inslee claimed 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. "These are the costs of not doing anything," Inslee said.

He added, "This is pollution with a capital 'P.' ... If Republicans and Democrats can work together, we can skin this cat." 

Bill Dewey, representing Taylor Shellfish, spoke about oyster larvae being destroyed by the sea water's increased acidity. "In my lifetime, the (ocean acidification) problem will only get worse. We need this bill for future generations," Dewey said. 

In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States at 34 percent from the production of electricity, 27 percent from transportation, industrial processes at 21 percent, commercial and residential causes  at 11 percent, and land use and forests at 15 percent, according to the Ranker bill.

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. 

Ranker's bill 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 Dec. 13 to come up with its recommendations.

"It allows us to judge what kind of trade-offs are being made," said Todd Myers, representing the business-orietned Washington Policy Center  at Wednesday's public hearing.

But Brandon Houskeeper of the Association of Washington Businesses, argued that the state's carbon emissions are already low. "Climate change is a global issue that requires global solutions," Houskeeper said.

Inslee contended that Washington should lead the way in showing the world how to combat climate change, carbon emissions and ocean acidification. "It's because we are leaders. That's who we are," Inslee said.

The governor added: "It's an enormous economic loss if we do not do this because others are not waiting. ... We cannot afford to let our competitors to get the jump on us."

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch and a member of the 25-person majority in the Senate, asked that the proposed task force look at an energy park being pushed on southern Hanford land next to Richland, including plans for solar power and the manufacture of small modular reactors. A small modular reactor is a pre-fabricated reactor capable of producing 200 to 300 megawatts; the Columbia Generating Station, Washington's only commercial nuclear reactor, can produce 1,150 megawatts. The feds are funding research into this concept elsewhere in the nation. Tri-Cities interests want to manufacture small modular reactor components after the research is done.

Sheldon is a board member of Energy Northwest, an agency made up of 27 public power utilities that operates the Columbia Generation Station's operator. Energy Northwest has been officially ambivalent on the modular reactor concept.

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


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8