While gearing up for my 2014 legislative coverage, I decided to check in on some of the unresolved efforts from 2013. One of those is Governor Inslee’s climate change initiative.
As a congressman, Governor Inslee was relentless in his support for green energy and his efforts to combat climate change. In the runup to his election in 2012, the national media speculated whether he would transform Washington into a giant carbon scrubbing machine or maybe install huge solar panels across the entire east side of the state.
However, the Democrats tragically and suddenly lost control of the State Senate thanks to a pair of Democratic turncoats, allowing the Republicans to block legislation and gut environmental efforts. Instrumental to this effort to block the governor’s agenda was the new chair of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee, Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42). You can read my review of his efforts to co-opt then weaken environmental protections here.
While Ericksen did make some headlines last year for his ethical troubles and his rule-breaking activities as committee chair, he did have a significant impact on the governor’s legislative agenda, much to the frustration of fellow committee member, Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40).
After much wrangling, the governor was able to secure one piece of environmental legislation. The formation of a committee to “recommend a state program of actions and policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” Yes, another committee is not exactly thrilling, but I suspect the governor was looking ahead to the next three years of his term and was willing to wait for a more democratic legislature before pushing major reforms.
This committee, aptly titled the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (as in, get a CLEW?), is composed of two Democrats, two Republicans and Governor Inslee, and you will never guess who is on that committee:
Sen. Ericksen and Sen. Ranker.
Their on again/off again relationship was covered in this article by Ralph Schwartz in the Bellingham Herald, but now the future of the governor’s environmental agenda remains in their hands. The group met several times since the legislature adjourned and you can read a summary of their latest proposals here.
Skip down to page six to see the different proposals on the table. For example, Sen. Ranker proposed providing incentives and infrastructure investment to encourage energy companies to reduce their use of coal, as well as a carbon tax or cap and trade system. By comparison, Sen. Ericksen proposed shifting our energy production from coal to nuclear energy since that produces less carbon emissions.
I spoke to Sen. Ranker about CLEW’s work last week. “Whatever comes out of (CLEW), it is imperative that we confront the growing challenge of climate change. It is one of the defining issues of our generation and what we do will have a lasting impact, not just on the health of Washington state but on the world at large.” The proposals from CLEW will be added to the growing pile of essential bills to be debated in 2014, such as a transportation package, funding education, gun control and the annual struggle over the budget.
Obviously, this year’s County Council races drew national attention but it might be the efforts of two Whatcom County senators that result in making Washington state a pioneer in environmental protection. Will CLEW result in ground-breaking environmental reforms and investment or will it return empty-handed to the state legislature? Stay tuned to our 2014 legislative coverage to find out.