When he introduced in November the report of a 21-member citizens panel recommending strategies for reducing carbon pollution, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed hope that the coming year and legislative session would be one of action.
His legislative proposals, coming out of that report, included a carbon cap-and-trade program that would have charged industrial polluters for the carbon they release and a low-carbon fuel standard that would have required refiners and others to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from fuels by 10 percent over 10 years.
The action thus far taken by the Legislature: The cap-and-trade proposal has been bottled up in committees, while Senate Republicans in their transportation budget threatened to divert funding from transit programs to road projects if the governor and the Department of Ecology move forward on the low-carbon fuel standard.
With the regular session ending Sunday, it’s a near certainty that lawmakers will need to reconvene for a special session to finish their work on funding education, transportation and the rest of the budget. House and Senate will have to resolve their split over the fuel standard “poison pill,” but it’s unlikely the governor’s carbon fee legislation will progress this session.
There’s still a case to be made for reducing carbon dioxide:
Climate change: This season’s warm winter and low snowpack in the mountains likely isn’t attributable to climate change, but it might have provided us with a preview of what is in store for the Northwest in the decades to come. Those who oppose action on climate change, when they acknowledge its existence, say that what we do matters little if other states and countries aren’t also going to take action. But some states and countries have. California since 2007 and Oregon just last month have instituted a low-carbon fuel standard. British Columbia has a carbon tax. Washington should join this coastal effort.
Health: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Washington state has a prevalence of asthma that is among the highest in the nation. Exposure to ozone, which is created when sunlight hits vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, is associated with asthma development in children and increases symptoms in adults. Stated simply, a reduction in carbon emissions would help many breathe easier and save lives.
Cost: Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality estimates its low-carbon fuel standard will increase the cost of a gallon of gas between 4 cents and 19 cents by 2025. California, where the standard has been in use longer may provide some indication of cost. Currently the California average for a gallon of gas is $3.16; Washington’s average is $2.75. But a West Coast-wide standard for cleaner-burning fuel should also result in lower production costs over time, which could encourage other states to join in.
It can still be a year of action for the governor and those who support the carbon-reduction proposals.
To get a majority of legislators behind these and other proposals, it will be necessary for lawmakers to see that a commitment to reducing carbon pollution is supported by a majority of their constituents. A renewed public campaign between now and next year’s legislative session by the governor and groups representing environmental, health and business concerns can help build that consensus and make for a better Earth Day next year.