Carbon Cap Report to Washington Governor May Spur Action

By | November 19, 2014

A panel convened by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to study how to put a price on carbon pollution says there are advantages to two approaches – a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program – but did not recommend a specific approach in a report presented to the governor on Monday.

Inslee has been exploring a market-based system to limit heat-trapping greenhouse gases that are blamed for warming the planet, and plans to present a proposal to the Legislature next year.

Such a system could generate about $1 billion in annual revenues, depending on numerous factors, according to Chris Davis, the governor’s policy adviser on carbon markets.

The governor has suggested using that money to help pay for court-ordered education mandates or fix transportation problems. The state could reduce carbon pollution, while having the side benefit of generating revenues that could be used for transportation, schools and other issues, Inslee said earlier this month.

Carbon Emissions Footprint ClimateOn Monday, the governor accepted the report from the task force at a meeting in Seattle, and said the price of doing nothing on climate change would be enormous.

“I do think this should be a year for action,” Inslee told the panel, adding: “We are in a place where we can move forward, and I think you’ve made that clear by your report.”

But Inslee will have a tough time advancing a carbon-pricing proposal through the Legislature. After November’s election, Republicans captured outright control of the Senate, while Democrats have held on to a slim margin in the state House.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who chairs the committee dealing with the environment, said on Monday that he was reserving judgment until he sees what the governor recommends.

“I don’t like tax increases in general but we’re going to wait to see what the governor is going to come out with,” he said in an interview.

But in a letter to Inslee last week, Ericksen and Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, raised concerns about the governor’s current approach to climate change policy. They wrote that taxpayers cannot afford the costs and the proposals could hurt the state’s economy.

The task force is part of a larger effort by Inslee to meet a law passed in 2008 requiring Washington to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and make further reductions beyond that.

Inslee is also exploring a mandate for cleaner fuels, similar to California’s first-in-the-nation standard, as well as boosting electric vehicle use and weaning the state off coal-powered electricity it buys from out of state.

The task force said in its report that more analysis should be done to understand how the program will impact businesses in specific sectors or certain vulnerable communities. It noted that any program should be part of a more comprehensive policy that considers other carbon-reducing strategies.

The panel didn’t explore how revenue could be used, leaving that up to the governor and legislators, but it suggested that it could be used for economic development, mitigating impacts to consumer and low-income groups, or investing in alternative energy technologies and transportation.

How the state chooses to spend the revenue is really important, said Rod Brown, of Cascadia Law Group, who co-chaired the task force.

Not everyone was in agreement on the panel.

Brad Tilden, president and CEO of Alaska Airlines, said in individual remarks submitted as part of the report that he did not endorse a market mechanism at this time. He wrote that more analysis was needed to understand the impacts and potential unintended consequences of either approach.

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