Job killer? Or creator? Inslee carbon plan launches debate

As a hearing draws a big crowd, House committee chair says he sees chances to get a majority behind Gov. Inslee's cap-and-trade proposal.
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Rod Tharp, right, talks while holding a sign at a demonstration Tuesday in Olympia in support of Gov. Jay Inslee's cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions.

As a hearing draws a big crowd, House committee chair says he sees chances to get a majority behind Gov. Inslee's cap-and-trade proposal.

Will Gov. Jay Inslee's plan to trim carbon emissions in Washington kill or create jobs?

That answer flip-flopped back and forth at a Tuesday House Environment Committee hearing on Inslee's proposal to set up a cap-and-trade program on carbon emitted by major firms and institutions.

"The governor calls them polluters. I call them job creators," said committee member Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas.

Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington Labor Council, said: "This will create tens of thousands of clean energy jobs." 

Environment committee chairman Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines, has mapped out Inslee's plan in a bill. Fitzgibbon said he is still short of gathering the 50 votes needed to get the bill passed on the House floor, but hopes the measure will pick up more votes after the legislation is tweaked. Tuesday's hearing crowd filled two rooms. And it will continue at 8 a.m. Thursday in Olympia.

Inslee's plan calls for roughly 130 of Washington's biggest polluters to pay for permission to produce specific amounts of carbon emissions, which scientists have linked to global warming. If that system is installed, polluters would be allowed to trade or sell their pollution quotas to other businesses.

The governor's approach is predicted to raise $1 billion a year, with Inslee wanting the money to be divided among transportation, education, support for Washington businesses competing against out-of-state and foreign firms, and tax credit checks for roughly 500,000 lower-income families.

Inslee hopes to reduce statewide carbon emissions to achieve greenhouse-gas limits that the Legislature set in a 2008 law. That measure set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later.

At a Tuesday press session, GOP Senate and House leaders repeated their dislike for Inslee's proposal, which will have to face a Republican-controlled Senate if it does pass the Democratic-majority House. "As I look at it more, the less enthusiasm I have for it," said Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville. House minority caucus chair Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said Inslee's plan would give the Washington Department of Ecology too much power in monitoring and regulating the 130 targeted entities.

At the hearing, the committee deliberately split the pro and con speakers evenly.

Supporters of Inslee's bill contended it would create clean energy jobs, not seriously hurt jobs among the 130 top polluters, and improve the air quality and health of Washingtonians for generations to come. "A market-based mechanism can significantly reduce carbon-based pollution without a significant impact to the overall economy," said Adam Glickman of the Service Employees International Union.

Several hearing speakers represented communities with significant populations of people of color and low income, saying their communities suffer disproportionate amounts of asthma because of nearby polluters. "Our response to climate change will determine our future generations' quality of life," said Tukwila city council member De'Sean Quinn.

Business interests large and small countered that Inslee's plan would severely hurt industries with tight profit margins, would drive businesses out of Washington and would have detrimental ripple effects on small subcontractors. Also, they argued that Washington' industries with cap-and-trade expenses would have higher production costs than out-of-state and foreign competitors who don't face such regulations.

"This bill would create a significant competitive disadvantage for us," said Matthew Lyons, representing Seattle's Nucor steel mill. A representative of another manufacturer said: "We find ourselves forced to invest in mitigation systems rather than in production machinery. ... This money should go to upgrading our plants. We don't have to subordinate our lives to environmental utopianism."

Some argued that Inslee's plan would increase the costs of gasoline and oil. Washington's top polluters include five oil refineries.

Committee member Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, said: "It seems to me that the king of Arabia has more to do with the price of oil than this bill does."

Frank Pupo of Associated Petroleum in Tacoma retorted: "There're a lot more factors and a lot more variables in the price of oil." 


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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