Inslee climate plans: Heavy winds ahead

Originally published by Crosscut

The governor readies a measure to limit carbon emissions. His critics roll out arguments against it. Get ready for the 2015 legislative session.  

There's going to be a big climate change brawl in Washington's 2015 legislative session. And both sides spent Tuesday gearing up for it.

On Tuesday, the verbal jabbing seemed to warm up markedly on both sides.

Senate Republican Caucus Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, charged that fundamental planks of Gov. Jay Inslee's efforts to deal with climate change "were scribbled in crayon." Schoesler based his charges on an analysis by the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank, of a University of Oregon economic study cited by Inslee last spring in pushing his efforts to deal with carbon emissions.

Meanwhile, Dr. Howard Frumpkin, dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, told an Inslee advisory task force that climate change is linked to growing health problems. He quoted an article in The Lancet, a prestigious peer-reviewed medical weekly: "Climate change is the biggest health threat of the 21st century."

The Inslee task force was discussing what it will tell the governor on Nov. 17. That's when the task force will give Inslee advice on what factors to consider as he prepares a package to address climate change, which will be sent to the Legislature in early 2015.

One of Inslee's chief passions is to tackle climate change in Washington, with carbon emissions being a major target. Inslee wants to push either a cap-and-trade program or a carbon emissions tax, but not both simultaneously. In a cap-and-trade program, Washington would have an overall annual limit to its carbon dioxide emissions. Limits would be set for specific geographic areas. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas and could trade their rights. A carbon tax is simply a levy on a firm's carbon dioxide emissions, which is supposed to inspire a business to decrease its emissions.

Carbon emissions are linked to global warming, which influences how snowpacks melt, which in turn affects how much water is available for farming. Carbon emissions are also a factor in the increasing acidity of the water along Washington's shores including Puget Sound, which has begun killing baby oysters and harming other shellfish harvested in the Northwest. Washington’s shellfish industry is worth about $270 million annually.

When Inslee got the green light for the current advisory task force last spring, he said studies showed climate change and carbon emissions would cost Washington's economy $10 billion by 2020 if nothing was done to combat that ecological problem.

Analyst Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center looked over a University of Oregon study that Inslee has cited. Myers charged that the 2010 University of Oregon study is outdated, and its researchers manipulated or misinterpreted data. "Predictions that are wildly exaggerated, perhaps to make political points, undermine a commitment to science-based policy-making and make it more difficult to develop rational and effective policy that serves the public interest," Myers wrote.

“It is chilling to think our state is considering policies based on a study that so seriously distorts the true picture,” Schoesler said in a press release. “These policies will impose billions of dollars in costs on Washington taxpayers, yet it appears the scientific calculations were scribbled in crayon."

He added, "This is a classic case of the misuse of science for political ends. Can we really expect rational policymaking when this kind of scaremongering is taking place?”

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith replied: "There is no dispute that inaction comes with a big price tag. These [University of Oregon study figures] are the most recent, complete numbers for Washington state and the range of impacts is consistent with the numbers we’re seeing from other reports — the most recent White House report estimates $150 billion annually in increased costs."

Frumpkin and task force member Renee Klein, president of the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific, briefed the advisory group Tuesday in Seattle on the local health effects of leaving climate change and carbon emissions unchecked. "The health impacts of climate change are extraordinarily expensive," Frumpkin said.