Things turn nasty in Olympia over climate change

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and Republican Sen. Curtis King may have set down their poison pens but are no closer to forging agreement on a transportation funding package.

Their exchange of stinging missives last week on low-carbon fuel standards continues to punctuate negotiations and imperil chances of a bipartisan deal getting inked this session.

King, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is convinced Inslee will wait until lawmakers depart Olympia in March then unilaterally impose tougher standards for the level of carbon allowed in fuel sold to motorists.

He insists this will drive up the price of gas and wants the governor to categorically deny he would act in such a manner.

Inslee unquestionably views a low-carbon standard as a mechanism for developing cleaner fuels and a critical weapon in the fight against climate change which he’s made a signature issue in his first term.

But he said he’s not discussed adopting any specific standard nor proposed anything resembling what King calls a “carbon fuel tax.” In other words, there is nothing up his sleeve and thus nothing to deny.

What sparked the vitriolic scrap, especially when it seemed the sticking points between the House, Senate and governor were on things like what to do with the sales tax on road projects and the amount of money going to transit districts?

It is the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy signed in October by the governors of California, Oregon and Washington, and the premier of British Columbia.

As documents go, this is a fine specimen of political speak, containing an iteration of lofty promises and an escape clause for leaders to not keep them.

In one section it says, “Washington will set binding limits on carbon emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those limits.” Translated, that’s a pledge for a cap-and-trade system which is a very divisive issue in the Legislature.

In another part on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, it reads, “Oregon and Washington will adopt low-carbon fuels standards.”

No surprise King and his colleagues are inflating much import to those words to keep the governor on the defensive about his intentions and derail any attempt at enacting new rules.

Inslee is doing what he can to deflate the significance of what he signed, saying repeatedly there’s no proposals drafted and none will be pursued before studies are done and public hearings held.

Moreover, the pact itself seems to bolster his case by concluding with a clear statement that nothing in it is “legally binding” on Washington.

That disclaimer isn’t proving to be a calming influence in Olympia where already slim chances of reaching an accord on a transportation funding package worsen as long as there are unresolved differences between Inslee and King.

Ironically, moving forward on a package is the one thing both men agreed upon in the nasty letters they sent each other.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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