Inslee, state senators differ on climate proposal

OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday insisted Washington state is poised to lead the fight against climate change and urged lawmakers to help him move quickly on the issue.

The governor advocated for his inaugural climate change bill in the House Environment Committee in the wake of changes to the measure made in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

He pushed for his plan to hire an outside group to advise state leaders on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the share of energy created in Washington state. The group’s report, due in October, would evaluate how other states and countries are addressing climate change.

“This is not some kind of hypothetical, far-off-in-the-distant future thing that seven generations from now they can worry about,” Inslee told the committee. “It’s right here, and it’s right now.”

The governor pitched the same measure to the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee in February. That committee passed an amended version of the bill after removing language about Washington’s vulnerability to climate change and the benefits of transitioning to cleaner energy sources.

“We don’t want to talk in absolutes in terms of science,” the Senate panel’s chairman, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Whatcom County, said of the language changes. “I’m not comfortable saying science is conclusive on any issue, because the science is always changing.”

The Senate version also would expand the scope of the group’s study to include the state’s efforts to cut carbon emissions — including cleaner car and fuel standards, phasing out coal power and adoption of green building rules — and to analyze their costs and benefits. Additionally, it would limit the governor’s role in shaping those recommendations into legislation.

After further revisions, that measure passed the Senate Ways and Means Committee last week.

Brandon Houskeeper, a lobbyist for the Association of Washington Business, said his organization has concerns about Inslee’s proposal but supports the current Senate version of the bill.

“We’ve adopted all these policies,” Houskeeper said. “What are their impacts?”

Inslee lauded the Legislature and former Gov. Chris Gregoire for setting a target in 2008 to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. Passing his measure, Inslee said, would help provide the tools to meet that goal.

“This is an issue about pollution, plain and simple,” Inslee said, referring to the discharge of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the governor hopes to find middle ground with senators who view things differently.

“We’re not supportive of the changes they’ve made in the Senate,” Smith said. “The governor will be talking to them more to see if we can come to an agreement on bill language.”

Inslee noted Washington state has a duty to tackle the challenges of climate change even if others fail to do so.

The governor also addressed a concern from Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, about the utility of Washington state taking action on climate change when China’s increasingly carbon-emitting ways could dwarf those efforts. Inslee allowed that “the Chinese, they are people of incredible mercantile ability” but said he views the country as a prime market for Washington state’s eco-friendly products.

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