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State Should Be at Forefront of Green Economy


Washington Conservation Voters
February 19, 2009


Supporters of [Governor Gregoire's] cap-and-trade legislation got a bit of
a boost last week with the release of a state-financed scientific report
on climate change effects faced by this state. The report, based on
different global scenarios and different levels of greenhouse gas
emissions, projects additional deaths, poor summer air quality, effects to
agriculture in Eastern Washington, reduced snow pack and lower water flows in rivers.

One of the most contentious issues of the 2009 legislative session is the
debate shaping up over Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions starting in 2012.

Supporters of the so-called cap-and-trade legislation got a bit of a boost
last week with the release of a state-financed scientific report on
climate change effects faced by this state. The report, based on different
global scenarios and different levels of greenhouse gas emissions,
projects additional deaths, poor summer air quality, effects to
agriculture in Eastern Washington, reduced snow pack and lower water flows in rivers.

"The impacts they project are downright scary," state Department of
Ecology Director Jay Manning told The Olympian's editorial board. "Climate
change is the biggest, long-term threat we face in the state."

The sobering report should help the Legislature come to an agreement on
the cap-and-trade legislation. Washington is one of 11 states and Canadian
provinces working together to cap greenhouse gas emissions starting three
years from now and gradually reduce allowable limits. Companies would be
issued emission permits setting certain greenhouse gas limits. Those
companies that could not meet their level would be forced to purchase
allowances or credits from others.

The cap-and-trade system, which has been in existence in Europe for years
and was started in September by northeastern states, allows companies to
auction off their emission allowances to each other. The overriding goal
is to gradually reduce greenhouse gas emissions by forcing polluters into
cleaner technology, thus creating a healthier region and planet.

House Bill 1819 and Senate Bill 5735 are extremely controversial, drawing
more than 300 proponents and opponents to a recent hearing.

Much of the opposition comes from businesses that would have a difficult
time meeting greenhouse gas limits. Some business leaders say in some
cases the technology does not exist to reduce pollution. In other cases,
conversion to cleaner technology would substantially increase operational
costs, which they say will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher
prices. Some company officials said if held to greenhouse gas emission
standards they would be forced to lay off employees, move to a different
state without limits or close their business. They argued that an economic
recession is no time to impose additional regulations upon businesses and
that the state should back off and wait for a national policy on
greenhouse gas emissions to be put into place.

"A carbon-constrained economy is coming," warned Manning. "It's not a
question of if; it's a question of when."

Washington state and our 10 coalition partners in the Western Climate
Initiative cannot wait for federal action.

We saw the futility of that strategy when former President George W. Bush
refused to let California, Washington and other states lower automobile
emission standards. Bush said a national standard was needed, but Congress
and the president never got around to that priority.

We fear the same thing would happen with a national greenhouse gas
emissions standard especially once coal-burning industries exert
pressure on Congress.

Moving toward a cap-and-trade strategy at the regional level puts
Washington state and its partners at the forefront of this necessary
environmental rescue issue.

Although there is not 100 percent consensus among scientists that global
warming exists, Gov. Gregoire realizes that if the 85 percent or 90
percent of credible scientists who do believe in the threat are correct,
we must act, and do so now, before it's too late. If the minority of
scientists who don't believe in global warming are correct, we'll be
fortunate to have taken positive steps regardless. Either way, capping
greenhouse gas emissions will make for a cleaner, healthier world.

The governor's proposal is a modest first step, allowing the Department of
Ecology to create an allowance trading program. It creates a group to work
on cap and trade policies. The legislation creates criteria for the cap,
allowances and offsets such as planting groves of trees in exchange for
higher pollution limits. The bill leaves it up to a work group to decide
how much of the allowed emissions would be purchased by polluters versus
allotted free of charge.

Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, sponsor of the House bill is
absolutely right when he says cap and trade is as much an economic issue
as it is an environmental issue. Washington has the ability to be at the
forefront creating green jobs to kickstart a green economy.

Cap and trade is a significant first step in that direction.

 

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