OLYMPIA—Climate scientists may have reached a consensus about the danger of human contributions to climate change, but getting a political consensus for how to respond will take some time at the Washington state Capitol.
Friday’s third and final hearing before Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate workgroup elicited an array of messages from the environmental movement, business groups, the oil industries and a slew of individuals — including two school kids from Seattle who are part of a project planting trees and said they can’t afford to wait for action.
Most of the roughly 50 people who spoke at the three-hour hearing at the Capitol urged the bipartisan workgroup — which has two legislators from each major party and Inslee as its non-voting chairman — to recommend that the Legislature take immediate steps to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels, which is implicated in global warming.
But a panel of business interests led by the Association of Washington Business cautioned that putting a cost on carbon — whether by a cap and trade system, carbon tax or low-carbon fuel rules to promote more use of alternative fuels — could disadvantage the state’s economy.
“Washington does not represent a state spewing emissions from industries,” said Brandon Houskeeper of the AWB. He called for national — not state-by-state — action on greenhouse gases and said Washington already emits less carbon pollution per capita than all but eight other states while showing the fifth highest use of public transit.
But most others testifying — with notable exceptions of two climate-change deniers who said the state should do nothing — wanted Washington to aim higher. There was strong support for trying to meet goals for greenhouse gas reductions that were set by the Legislature in 2008 but won’t be met in 2020 without policy changes.
Mary Moore of the state League of Women Voters said her group’s members “heartily support efforts” outlined by Inslee to move the state closer to the emission goals. She said they also support efforts to keep spurring use of alternative fuel sources under Initiative 937’s mandate that utilities add alternative energy such as wind and solar to their portfolios.
Inslee’s workgroup is scheduled to adopt recommendations next Wednesday morning to send to the 2014 Legislature. But few — including Inslee — expect anything but two minority reports produced by the two Democrats and two Republicans on the panel.
The two Republicans — Rep. Shelly Short of Addy and Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale — want a slower approach that could use nuclear power as a replacement for fossil fuels. They also say it may be necessary to loosen the state’s emissions targets, and both argue that the costs of action may be too great and benefits too little.
Inslee and the two Democrats on the panel — Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island and Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Seattle — want to move ahead to start designing a cap-and-trade system, phase out use of Montana coal power, and promote “smart” buildings that use less energy and clean energy such as wind and solar.
“Simply put, we must act to protect our environment,” Inslee told the committee. “The environment won’t wait and neither should we.”
Thurston County Commissioner Karen Valenzuela, a Democrat, urged the state to go with the proposals outlined by Inslee and other Democrats on the workgroup. So did Lacey City Council member Cynthia Pratt, who urged a phase-out of coal power and efforts to reduce wood burning in fireplaces and limit idling cars in traffic.
Doug Howell of the Sierra Club urged support for Inslee’s proposal to start devising a cap-and-trade system for limiting carbon pollution and action to pressure Puget Sound Energy into phasing out its use of coal power imported from Colstrip, Mont.