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January 19, 2018

Climate policy debated in Olympia

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Tri-Cities attorney Fran Forgette, at right, asks a question of the AWB Climate Panel at the 2018 Legislative Day & Hill Climb. From left: Moderator Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association; Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien; Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis; Reed Schuler, senior policy advisor for Gov. Jay Inslee's office; and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

Washington lawmakers offered differing views on climate policy Tuesday during a panel discussion at AWB’s’ Legislative Day.

The same morning, the governor was among those who testified before the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee about his bill to enact a new tax on carbon emissions. Under the proposal, emissions created by transportation fuels and power plants would initially be taxed at $20 a ton.

At AWB’s event, the panelists included House Environment Committee Chair Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien; Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale; Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis; and Reed Schuler, a senior climate advisor to the governor as part of a panel discussion moderated by Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Northwest Gas Association.

Fitzgibbon said the Legislature has talked about climate for a long time.

“I’ve made no secret about the fact that I’m frustrated with the slow, lack of legislative progress on reducing Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Fitzgibbon said.

Schuler echoed that sentiment, saying, “The time for action is now.”

But many in Washington’s business community have noted that AWB members have been taking action for a long time through innovation and investment in clean energy and new technology for their businesses. And, Washington is already one of the greenest economies in the country with significant hydro and nuclear power resources, AWB members pointed out on Tuesday.

DeBolt described legislation that he’s working on this session that is more of a “carrot rather than a stick, to actually reduce carbon now.” The bill would make changes to the state Renewable Portfolio Standard that would count hydropower as green power, and offer a business and occupation tax credit for businesses that reduce their carbon footprint.

Ericksen, for his part, was skeptical that any carbon tax enacted only Washington would make a significant impact on global climate emissions. He also downplayed concerns that lawmakers need to impose a carbon tax this year to head off a likely ballot initiative in the fall.

“If you put a 40-cent gas on the ballot in November, I really don’t think it’s going to pass,” Ericksen said.

Mary Catherine McAleer, AWB government affairs director for environmental policy, testifies before the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee on Senate Bill 6203. She is flanked by Irene Plenefisch, government affairs director at Microsoft, and Sheri Call, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Associations, during their testimony on Jan. 16, 2018. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)
Kirschner asked the panelists to share their views about the pros and cons of a carbon tax versus a cap-and-trade system.

Inslee previously proposed a cap-and-trade bill, but lawmakers failed to act on it, prompting him to attempt to impose emission reduction limits through a Department of Ecology rule. In December, a Thurston County judge sided with AWB in a court challenge, saying the state lacked the authority to implement the rule without legislative approval.

Schuler said Gov. Inslee is “very flexible” with regard to how the state lowers emissions, and he believes either a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system could be effective.

Fitzgibbon, who said he does not have a strong preference between the two, said a carbon tax offers more certainty regarding cost, while a cap-and-trade system offers more certainty regarding emission levels. On a global level, a cap-and-trade system is better, but a carbon tax may make more sense at the state level.

Fitzgibbon added that he doesn’t believe opponents view the two options any differently.

DeBolt said he was skeptical of cap-and-trade systems, but he believes there are other ways to cut pollution and create incentives.

Ericksen said transportation remains the largest source of carbon emissions and he doesn’t believe raising taxes is the way to solve that problem, calling it a “regressive hit” to families. We should be investing in technology and research and development to develop the next generation transportation, he said.

To learn more, please contact Mary Catherine McAleer, AWB government affairs director for climate policy.