WCTA Government Affairs Committee Follow-up

Thanks to all who were able to attend our first meeting and discuss carbon pricing policy.  I was very pleased with the active participation and thought we did a good job of surfacing the pros and cons, as well as identifying other approaches to reducing carbon—and boosting the cleantech sector.

The arguments in favor of WCTA engaging on the carbon pricing issue included:

  • We are going to be asked to take a position.  Gov. Inslee has expressed a strong interest in adopting some form of carbon pricing (he prefers cap and trade).  In the wake of the Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup (CLEW) process, it appears likely that some policy proposal will emerge in 2014, go to the Legislature in 2015, and, if not passed, go to the ballot in 2016.  The Governor will look to the cleantech industry for support on such a policy, so it behooves the WCTA to get informed on the options and develop a point of view on a preferred policy.
  • Potential for broad member benefits.  Many cleantech policy proposals benefit portions of our membership (as opposed to the entire sector) and we have not taken a position to date.  Individual companies have advocated for specific policies, but we have not had a collective voice (with the recent exception of advocating extension of the R&D tax credit/deferral).  Carbon pricing policy has the potential to benefit a broad cross-section of WCTA companies.  A price on carbon puts alternative energy sources on an even footing with fossil fuels, which could benefit all clean energy and energy efficiency companies.  The revenue raised by a carbon price could be recycled, which could further benefit a broad cross-section of our membership.
  • The topic is interesting.  Much has been learned about different approaches in the last five years since the debate in Congress.  It is useful for cleantech companies to understand recent policy lessons on approaches to reducing carbon emissions, even if the Alliance decides not to take a position.

The arguments against the WCTA engaging the carbon pricing issues included:

  • Too complicated.  Carbon pricing policy is complex and has many nuances that can make a big difference on how well it does or doesn’t work.  The WCTA doesn’t have full-time policy staff, so it is not obvious to see how we could develop the expertise to sort through the different proposals and develop a position with wide member benefits.
  • Too ambitious.  The WCTA is now just dipping its toe in the water on public policy advocacy.  We would be better off picking a few less ambitious policy initiatives and getting some wins under our belt before we tackle something as big and complex as carbon pricing.
  • Too divisive.  While it is theoretically possible to devise a policy that benefits the entire WCTA membership, any major policy change like carbon pricing will create winners and losers and will attract opposition.  The WCTA Board may decide it doesn’t want to get in the middle of a political fight.
  • Equity:  Carbon pricing policies costs could fall disproportionately on some groups (low income, people that travel for a living, etc.).  The details of devising a policy that lowers carbon, is equitable, and creates jobs are complex and may not be achieveable.

I propose that we put together a program to inform ourselves about carbon pricing options.  We should revisit the topic of whether we want to take a position in late spring.  I will work with Tom to arrange a series of briefings and background materials that will address recent climate science, the experiences of other regions, and the alternatives being developed in Washington.  In the meantime, on a parallel track, I would like to work with the committee to develop alternative policy proposals.

For those interested in digging into a comprehensive overview of policy alternatives, I commend to you the State Energy Strategy (find links here), which I worked on while Deputy at the Washington State Department of Commerce.  The goals of the strategy were to identify policies that would:

  • Maintain competitive energy prices.
  • Foster a clean energy economy and jobs.
  • Meet obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Please contact Tom Ranken, if you wish to attend the next GAC meeting on March 4th at 3:00 p.m. (Members only).

Daniel Malarkey, 1Energy Systems, Inc., WCTA Government Affairs Committee Chair