Show a green commitment

Contrary to the apparent fears of most state senators, it is in our state’s economic interest to be a national leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

House members should consider that as they take up a Senate bill that severely weakened the governor’s proposal to implement a cap-and-trade system in 2012.

Humankind needs to reduce its carbon footprint to curb the effects of climate change, and President Obama has proposed doing so through a national cap-and-trade system. As a member of the Western Climate Initiative, a cooperative effort of seven states and four Canadian provinces, Washington has stated its intent to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further reductions over time.

A cap-and-trade system would mandate those reductions, and create a market where polluters who stay under emission targets could trade allowances to those who have exceeded them. Staying out front on this complex issue, rather than simply waiting for the feds to take action, carries potentially huge benefits for Washington, such as:

n Maintaining the state’s reputation for green innovation, drawing entrepreneurs and clean-energy companies that will fuel the 21st century economy. That will put Washington in position for jobs, good paying jobs, when the economy finally begins to grow again.

n Maximizing the state’s leverage as a national cap-and-trade system takes shape. Washington should get credit for the ways it already curbs greenhouse gas emissions —through agriculture, forestry and the use of hydropower — something regions of the country with high emissions will fight. Being recognized as a green leader by rule makers should help, and could save state businesses and utilities billions.

The recession, however, has many lobbyists and lawmakers fearful of anything that might cost consumers and businesses more. So when the Senate passed E2SSB 5735 last week, it took all the teeth out of the governor’s cap-and-trade plan, essentially calling for more study.

The House needs to do better, at least by establishing a hard-and-fast emission cap, even if it means taking more time to develop the particulars of a trading system. (We’ll note, though, that Europe has provided a pretty good blueprint for mistakes to avoid and successes to follow. It shouldn’t take a year or more to come up with a workable plan.)

Now is the time to be setting the stage for a strong economic recovery, not for sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to lead. Lawmakers should be doing everything they can to encourage green businesses to locate here. One way is to send a clear signal that Washington is committed to doing two things at the same time: reducing its carbon footprint and fueling its economy.

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