The West’s climate agenda

Writer Wallace Stegner described California as America, “only more so.” It’s a definition that extends to the Pacific Northwest. Here political and tech innovations aren’t freighted with the East’s suffocating conventions.

The West also is a bellwether on climate change, the most compelling environmental dilemma of our time. On Monday in San Francisco, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee joined California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark (the carbon-sensitive or just-too-busy Clark joined by phone) to issue a joint statement on battling climate change and ocean acidification as well as fostering the clean-energy industry.

The “Action Plan” is a broad brush two-pager, with aspirational, non-legally binding language. That’s OK. This isn’t the SALT II Treaty.

“Yes, these are modest steps,” Brown said at Monday’s press conference, with a tangential note that climate change is “the world’s greatest existential challenge.”

The plan puts the onus on Oregon and Washington to come up with carbon pricing and clean-fuel standards similar to California and B.C. The states and B.C. also pledge to “harmonize” their 2050 greenhouse gas-emission targets and establish mid-term targets.

“This Action Plan represents the best of what Pacific Coast governments are already doing, and calls on each of us to do more — together — to create jobs by leading in the clean energy economy, and to meet our moral obligation to future generations,” Inslee said.

Some Cascadia-ish (and Brown) hopes such as high-speed rail are tucked in. But there’s an overarching vision that, were the stars, politics and markets to align, presage an inspired future.

“The governments of California, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will work together to build an integrated West Coast market for low-carbon fuels that keeps energy dollars in the region, creates economic development opportunities for regional fuel production, and ensures predictability and consistency in the market,” the plan reads.

Scale is one takeaway. As the plan notes, the aggregate area represents the world’s fifth-largest economy, with a total GDP of $2.8 trillion. Think Ernest Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” stretching south to the Mexican border.

“California isn’t waiting for the rest of the world before it takes action on climate change,” said Brown. (Stegner’s “only more so” also applies to confidence levels.)

The action plan is more a vision statement than a comprehensive agreement. But it opens the door. To give it teeth, Inslee could make clean-fuel standards and carbon pricing his top legislative priorities for 2014.

Inslee strives to be America’s green-energy governor. Here’s his chance.

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