Senate passes bill to give utilities carbon flexibility

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The state Senate passed a measure Monday to give electrical utilities more flexibility in reducing carbon emissions, but only after voting on whether humans are contributing to climate change.

The Senate ended up 26-to-23 voting that humans "may" cause global warming. The vote pushed aside a Democratic attempt to say definitively that humans cause climate change.

All but one of the Washington Senate's minority Democrats voted Monday that humans definitely do cause climate change.

Meanwhile, all of one member of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus voted for the less-specific "may" phrasing. During a later debate, another Republican, Sen. Mark Miloscia, said he believes humans cause climate change despite his vote for the "may" language.

The 26-23 vote for "may" came in wrangling over an amendment by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, to the larger measure to tweak 2006's voter-approved Initiative 937, which addresses trimming carbon emissions when producing electricity.

Initiative 937 requires that 15 percent of state utilities’ electricity must come from alternative sources — wind, solar, biomass and others — by 2020. The interim targets have been an easily achieved 3 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, with still-to-be-reached goals that include a 9 percent share of alternatives by 2016.

Overall, 17 power utilities in Washington are covered by I-937. The law's purpose is to cut down on the emission of greenhouse gases by generating more electricity from renewable resources. The new bill by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would give those utilities a choice between continuing to seeking alternative power sources or reducing carbon emissions by other means. Those would be investing in electric vehicle charging stations, converting their own vehicles to using liquefied natural gas or tackling other carbon-reduction measures.

Referring to the debate over human influences on climate change, Ericksen said. "We can spend all night going back and forth between my study and your study." He added, "That's not productive. What's productive is the underlying bill." Ericksen described using "may" as a political compromise.

Habib countered: "Science is not subject to compromise." Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said: "We do cause some of it."

Ultimately, Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, voted with the minority Democrats that humans definitely cause global warming, while Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, joined the majority coalition in voting for the use of "may."

Miloscia, a first-year Republican from Federal Way, did not like the lack of specific carbon reduction targets in Ericksen's bill. He tried to add specific goals to it, but, despite Democratic help, he lost. Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, argued the GOP earlier supported specific management goals for state agencies, so it should also do the same with utilities covered by state law. Ericksen countered that utilities are not state entities and should not be burdened with specific goals. It was during this argument that Miloscia said he believes humans definitely cause climate change, even though he voted for the "may" language.

Hargrove and Hatfield voted with the majority coalition to pass the overall bill 26-23. Miloscia and Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, crossed the aisle to join the Democrats.

This bill was one of several that the GOP unveiled in late January to tackle carbon emissions. A major plank in the GOP package is encouraging the manufacturing and shipping of small modular reactors, likely in the nuclear-oriented Tri-Cities area. The Senate last week passed a measure to have the state look for places to manufacture the small reactors. The GOP push is a fraction of the scope of Inslee's goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions later. Inslee's bill 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. But Inslee's and the GOP carbon emissions bills do not clash and can easily co-exist.


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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