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Gov. Jay Inslee stepped up his campaign to do something on climate change, telling a legislative committee this morning that the impacts of global warming could cause $10 billion damage yearly to Washington’s economy and families by 2020.
“I believe we in Washington ought to be optimistic in our ability to whip climate change,’’ Inslee told the committee in testifying for his proposal to create a legislative task force to study climate change responses.
The Republican-led Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee welcomed the Democratic governor, and chairman Doug Ericksen of Whatcom County, who said low-cost energy is a big concern to him, welcomed Inslee’s “bold” and “big” approach to developing energy and technological innovation in Washington.
Inslee said ocean acidification is being driven by carbon absorption on the high seas and is already damaging the Evergreen State’s iconic oyster industry, driving some bivalve propagators to less acidic waters in Hawaii.
“This is about pollution – Pollution with a capital P,’’ Inslee said, adding at one point “the science is clear and inarguable’’ that climate change is a rising threat.
The governor mentioned forest fires, drought and acidifying oceans among the impacts besides temperature changes. He said carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are at “the highest level in 800,000 years” and that if trends continue snowpack, now the lowest since the 1950s, could be so low that skiing would no longer be possible at Snoqualmie Pass by 2050.
Two climate skeptics testified – including retired forest ecologist Gary Ritchie of Olympia, who said global temperatures have fallen over the past 16 years and for 25 years in Washington. He said he opposes the bill because “it is essentially without any scientific basis.’’ t
But Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish said his firm is encountering higher acidity in its oyster hatcheries and the threats are real. Cliff Traisman spoke for the Washington Environmental Council and Beth Doglio for Climate Solutions in support of a policy that is forward thinking and starts to address the problem.
Under Senate Bill 5802 , which is proposed by Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island and co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, Washington’s governor would hire an independent group to evaluate the state’s options for addressing climate change and offer a report by Oct.15.
Each of the four legislative caucuses would have a role in reviewing and evaluating the ideas for actually meeting the state’s goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, which were laid out as goals in 2008. After the recession hit, legislative efforts to pursue a cap and trade approach – allowing the buying and selling of pollution credits – died.
Inslee has stopped short of recommending a cap and trade approach or a carbon tax. But he said other regions have taken steps forward that are working – in the New England states (cap and trade), British Columbia (carbon tax) and California.
The recommendations that emerge from the working group would have to take into account impacts on the economy, on households, and benefits to health.
Todd Myers, an environmental policy advocate with the right-of-center Washington Policy Center, said the proposal has great promise because it would lead to an analysis of what approaches actually yield the most environmental benefit for dollar spent combating greenhouse gases.
Conservative Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, serves on the board of Energy Northwest and urged Inslee to consider nuclear power among options. Inslee said he is open to other energy sources.
Lobbyists for the Association of Washington Business and Puget Sound Energy had concerns about the state responses to climate change.
AWB’s representative Brandon Houskeeper said Washington is a relatively low emitter of greenhouse gases and that climate change is a global problem requiring global solutions. He suggested that the independent analysis should look at successes and failures of other regions’ efforts.
And PSE lobbyist Nancy Atwood said half of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation sources, and she urged the Legislature to take a holistic approach to solving the problem.
After the hearing, Ericksen said energy costs remain a major concern to his caucus. But he said he likes “the concept” of involving the four legislative caucuses and the idea of looking for best bang for the buck, which the bill would have the caucuses consider.
“We’ll probably tweak the bill a little bit, but we look forward to working with the governor,” Ericksen said.
In the House, Republican minority leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis said his caucus will participate in the working group but he expects it to offer much different approaches to the problem than Inslee and Democrats.