Inslee’s Climate Agenda for the Presidential Election Gets Rare Wins
This may be a coincidence that the declaration by Governor Inslee about his intent to run in the presidential elections and Washington Senate’s passing a clean-power bill come at same time. But, there is no doubt that the action by Senate gives impetus to the credibility of Governor Inslee in the presidential run.
The 28-19 Senate vote to approve Senate Bill 5116 and Friday’s passage in the House of HB 1112, another proposal sought by Inslee has been a pair of rare victories for the governor’s climate agenda in the Washington Legislature.
SB 5116 was co-sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, and it would require the state’s utilities to stop using coal-generated electricity by the end of 2025. It would also set a target to make Washington utility carbon-free by 2045.
“We’re setting a pathway that’s real, measurable and specific and tangible to get the rest of our electricity grid off fossil fuels,” said Carlyle. He added later: “It’s a big step forward, by any standard.”
Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, Mason County, a conservative Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, has reportedly joined Democrats in ratifying the bill on an otherwise party-line vote.
The bill has been scheduled for a Tuesday committee hearing in the House.
In the meantime, the House on Friday afternoon passed HB 1112, co-sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle. This would phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbons in equipment such as industrial refrigeration units.
In a statement about the bill’s passage, Fitzgibbon called the legislation necessary “because we cannot rely on the federal government to act on climate by regulating pollutants.”
For Inslee, who has long made climate change the center of his political career, the double victories showed a paradigm shift. It should be noted that the governor has for years watched his ambitious clean-energy proposals — such as a carbon cap-and-trade program and a proposed carbon fee — fail to gain traction at the Legislature. And, we should not forget that the voters rejected carbon-fee ballot measures in 2016 and 2018.
Just after Inslee released a video announcing his bid for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, the Senate took to the floor. He primarily focused on tackling climate change and included clips of the governor discussing the issue over the decades.
However, Republicans on Friday protested both bills, and some were trying to cast doubt on the human-caused effects of climate change. Others expressed concern that the phase-out of hydrofluorocarbons has the potential to hurt agricultural and other industries in Eastern Washington.
Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, stated the clean-power bill a poor approach to reducing carbon — and one that would ultimately raise electricity costs.
“This bill is going to raise the cost of energy to everybody,” said King in a floor speech. “It’s going to raise the cost of energy to the low-income; those that can least afford it.”
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale and a frequent Inslee critic, this week termed the 100-percent power plan an “aspirational goal based on a campaign promise that sounded good on a slogan but really doesn’t make any sense in public policy.”
However, the votes of Friday don’t end the clean-power debate at the Legislature, even among Democrats.
The House has been working on an even stronger clean-power proposal for hitting the 2045 carbon-free deadline. And on the contrary, Carlyle’s bill allows flexibility for some utilities to draw power from natural-gas plants that produce greenhouse-gas emissions, even after that deadline.
Along with the clean-power and hydrofluorocarbons proposals, Inslee and Democrats are trying to introduce bills to reduce the carbon content of transportation fuels, boost energy conservation for buildings and increase the use of electric vehicles.
As per Governor, those bills would add up to roughly the same amount of carbon reduction as his legislation in recent years to enact a carbon fee or a carbon cap-and-trade system.
With their first big House and Senate majorities in the past few years, Democrats have put clean energy at the forefront of this year’s to-do list.
However, even with those more significant majorities this year the transportation-fuels proposal may not have the votes to get to the governor’s desk. As per some worries, that proposal would raise fuel costs.
According to Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, he opposed the clean-fuel standards because it might increase the price of gas “but brings nothing back to the state of Washington.”
“A low-carbon fuel standard is not going to build a single ferry, it’s not going to build a [fish] culvert, it’s not going to address any of our transportation needs in the state of Washington,” said Hobbs. “And environmental needs.”
This year he is proposing an infrastructure package which would be funded partly through a carbon fee.