A plan for carbon pollution

For months, Republican apologists for sandbagging a transportation-finance plan pointed to a looming executive order from the governor. Float a gas tax? Not when consumers will be gobsmacked by Gov. Jay Inslee’s secret plan to unilaterally impose a carbon tax.

Inslee doesn’t have that authority (nor is he the furtive-plan sort.) The fear-mongering flowed from the governor’s October joint statement with California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark to tackle climate change.

The four-party “Action Plan” is a broad brush two-pager, with aspirational, non-legally binding language. (The SALT II Treaty it ain’t.) However, the agreement put the onus on Washington to come up with carbon pricing and clean-fuel standards similar to California and B.C.

On Tuesday, Inslee signed an executive order to advance his low-carbon, clean-energy agenda. There are no new taxes and no new programs. The rub is it appears a wee process heavy, with a 21-member “Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce.” (That’s a lot of poobahs charged with conjuring a game plan.) The takeaway is a public process and enough meetings to slash demand for prescription Ambien.

“We will engage the right people, consider the right options, ask the right questions and come to the right answers — answers that work for Washington,” Inslee said. The impetus includes greenhouse-gas emission deadlines mandated by the Legislature in 2008. According to the governor’s office, the consultant for Inslee’s Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup warns that Washington will not meet its statutory reduction goals for 2020, 2035 and 2050. And it’s no longer white noise that Millennials can fix a generation from now. The state must act soon to meet its 2020 benchmarks.

One promising objective is ending reliance on dirty, out-of-state, coal-generated electricity. That puts the squeeze on Washington’s largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, which generates one-third of its juice from coal-fired power plants, mostly the Colstrip facility in Montana. PSE will have a voice at the table, with the company’s Kimberly Harris on the task force.

There’s an agenda — a noble and necessary one — that will involve sacrifice. After a feasibility study by the Office of Financial Management, Inslee could act on improved clean-fuel standards. There’s also an entrepreneurial component likely to get the nod from state lawmakers, including accelerated development of clean-energy technology and improved energy efficiency.

The process will be deliberative and public, not secret. Now, something meaningful needs to come of it.

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