Inslee, Republicans draw lines in the sand over climate

More study vs. strong action now.
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More study vs. strong action now.

Forget about being on the same page. Republicans and Democrats are not even in the same book on how Washington should tackle climate change issues.

A legislative panel is supposed to decide by Dec. 31 on recommendations to the Washington Legislature on how to deal with climate change and carbon emissions. The Republicans and Democrats on the panel have put their own proposals on the panel's Web site. A public hearing on those proposals will be held today at 2 p.m. in Olympia. The panel is supposed to recommend a plan of action on Dec. 18.

A bipartisan set of recommendations appears unlikely.

A fundamental clash is the Republicans want to change the emission-reduction targets that the state in 2008 while the Democrats want to put a cap on Washington's carbon emissions and install a cap-and-trade program for the state's industries. Neither side likes the other's proposals.

The panel consists of Gov. Jay Inslee; Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island; Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien; Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; and Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy.Three of the four legislators must agree on any formal recommendations going forward. So far, the panel has split along party lines with the Democrats urging immediate action because of legal obligations, and the Republicans saying the economic impacts must be studied before any actions are taken.

All this was set into motion in 2008, when 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. Early this year, the Legislature passed a bill to set up this task force with the Dec. 31 deadline. As a condition for that bill's passage, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus got an amendment that converted Inslee into a non-voting member, setting up the current 2-to-2 deadlock among the four legislators.

Republicans Ericksen and Short recommended that the Legislature revisit and possibly change the goals set by the 2008 law. They want more incentives provided for using hydroelectric power. More use of nuclear power should be explored. More cost analyses should be conducted on reducing greenhouse gases. More research on "clean" technologies should be conducted.

Ericksen and Short wrote that the state government is moving too fast without studying the ramifications of potential measures to combat carbon emissions. They argued that tackling carbon emissions in Washington will have a minuscule impact on the overall global warming situation. And they contended that too much of the costs of implementing the Democrats' proposals would fall on consumers.

Meanwhile, Inslee, Ranker and Fitzgibbon propose putting a legal cap on all of Washington's carbon emissions, with a cap-and-trade program included to allow corporations to juggle emissions among themselves. They suggested that coal imported to Washington power plants from out-of-state be counted as a source of carbon emissions to be kept within Inslee's proposed cap. Energy efficiency measures would be tackled. And legislating use of low-carbon fuels would be explored.  

Under a cap-and-trade program, 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 could trade their rights. The legislative panel's technical consultant, the Virginia-based firm Leidos, has reported the most potent proposed policy would be to install a cap-and-trade program.

Meanwhile in the past eight days, environmentalists and Republicans have begun taking radically different stances on the costs of going to low-carbon fuels. Experts talking to a Seattle-based Climate Solutions briefing said their studies show that low-carbon fuels have little or no effects on retail gasoline prices. But the Washington Senate Majority Coalition's leaders, citing the Washington Trucking Association's calculations, contend that going to low-carbon fuels will increase gasoline prices by 60 cents a gallon.  

Inslee, Ranker and Fitzgibbon wrote that the 2008 is a legal obligation that is already behind schedule on being met, and that the economic costs of not acting immediately will be significant. Carbon emission have been scientifically linked to the deaths of baby oysters in Washington's shellfish industry. Inslee, Ranker and Fitzgibbon also contended that the environmental and economic impacts of proposals similar to their own have already been studied in other regions. 

Now the public will have its chance to speak today in Olympia. But unless the speakers exert uncommon sway on the politicians, a deadlock seems likely when the panel sits down to decide on the final recommendations Dec. 18.


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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