With a dramatic 5 p.m. bill deadline looming as a backdrop, the floor vote today was anti-climactic for Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposal to create a legislative work group to study the best way to meet state targets for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. The latest iteration of Senate Bill 5802 easily cleared the Washington Senate this morning with a big bipartisan vote of 37-12.
The version of the measure that passed omits key language sought by Inslee that states Washington is vulnerable to climate change on many fronts – from rising sea levels that threaten coastal areas to acidifying seas that harm oyster larvae, shrinking snow pack that imperils irrigation for farms and fish, and changes in temperature that threaten forests.
Inslee and bill sponsor, Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island, both were pushing to restore the language but failed – and Ranker went along, saying before the vote that he is treating it as “a work in progress.’’ House Democrats have a rival version of the bill and want to preserve Inslee’s approach.
In a nod to the urgency felt by Democrats, Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale added an amendment with an emergency clause, which lets the bill take effect as soon as an agreed-to bill passes both legislative chambers and Inslee can sign it.
The clause says: “This act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and takes effect immediately.”
Ericksen said in an interview that he wants the state to get started right away on a methodical study of what the state could do to lower carbon pollution in the state and what approach gives the state its best results.
The bill is an effort by Inslee, who campaigned last fall on a clean-energy agenda, to revive the Legislature’s discussion of climate change which fell off the state’s political agenda during the Great Recession. The state has targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and is not likely to get there without a change in strategy.
“I really want to take the religion out of carbon,” Ericksen said in a floor speech, arguing that he wants to find the “best way” to meet the goals. “In 2008 I did not vote for the goals but they are in place now.’’
Ranker, who has said Ericksen “gutted” Inslee’s original language, said in a speech that the state already is feeling the effects of climate change. He said snow pack in the Cascade Mountains is 25 percent smaller than in 1950, regional forests have health issues, and sea levels are rising and affecting beaches along the Pacific Coast.
Sen. Steve Litzow, a moderate Republican from Mercer Island who was backed in the last election by environmentalists, also spoke in favor of the bill. “We want to put our energy and resources into those things that work,” he said.
But Republican Sen. Mike Carrell, who is a retired science teacher from Lakewood, offered what he called a “discordant note” and questioned whether a warming Earth was such a problem. He asserted that global temperatures had been much higher in earlier geological times and argued that it could be the warming Earth that is causing carbon dioxide to be released – not the other way around, which environmental scientists argue.
“Look up Henry’s Law,” Carrell urged, suggesting that forests do better with more carbon dioxide in the air.
Under the bill, the state would hire a consultant to review and score options, and recommendations for further legislative action would be finalized by the working group by year’s end. In the Senate bill, Inslee is a nonvoting chair of the work group; in the House version he is a potential tie-breaking vote .
The bill does not call for an overall strategy but it does call for a review of what has worked in other states and regions – everything from a carbon tax to a cap-and-trade system of taxing polluters and selling pollution credits. It also would allow an examination of the transportation system, which is blamed for producing half of the state’s carbon pollutants, building codes and other state practices and policies.
The companion climate-change bill in the House was still “up in the air,” according to Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines and sponsor of HB 1915. Bills die if not voted off the floor by 5 p.m. today in their chamber of origin, but Upthegrove was expecting action on the Senate measure if anything went awry with his measure.
Failing that, Upthegrove said the measure has been a priority for leadership and he was confident Democrats would find a way to get Inslee’s priority legislation through. HB 1915 carries Inslee’s original language, and Upthegrove said he expected to pass it on a partisan vote – setting up a negotiation with the Senate for a bill that could pass the entire Legislature with bipartisan support.
The Senate vote in favor of SB 5802 drew 13 Republicans including Ericksen and Litzow and Sens. Barbara Bailey, Oak Harbor; Michael Baumgartner, Spokane; Don Benton, Vancouver; Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup; Joe Fain of Auburn; Andy Hill of Redmond; Curtis King of Yakima; Linda Evans Parlette of Wenatchee; Ann Rivers of LaCenter; Pam Roach of Auburn; and Mark Schoesler of Ritzville.
The Senate vote against SB 5802 included two conservative Democrats – Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch and Sen. Brian Hatfield of South Bend – and 10 Republicans.
UPDATES: Rep. Dave Upthegrove, sponsor of the House bill, said there will not be a vote before cutoff today. Instead the House is taking the Senate version. “I’m going to get that scheduled in the committee right away and then onward,” Upthegrove said. “I expect we’ll advance the bill.”
The original post left out Sen. Dammeier among the Republicans who voted in favor of the bill.
and schedule a hearing right away to keep the measure moving.