TACOMA — Climate change may have faded as a national issue, but it remains prominent in the Washington governor’s race.
When it comes to incentives and regulations to help green-energy producers, the two main candidates for Washington governor see things differently.
Democrat Jay Inslee made reducing greenhouse gas emissions his signature issue as a congressman. He said it should be an all-out effort in the style of the Apollo project that put a man on the moon.
Environmental advocates also praise Inslee’s Republican rival, Attorney General Rob McKenna, for legal work in support of regulations on greenhouse gases. He distinguishes himself on this issue from the national GOP platform, which condemns some of the same regulations.
The candidates differ in their ideas about ways to help encourage green energy producers.
Inslee pitches green energy as an investment Washington can’t afford to pass up. The industry is booming, he said at a recent news conference beside the Duwamish River in Seattle, where a Seattle company, General Biodiesel, is turning used cooking oil into fuel.
“The question is, are these jobs going to be in China, Germany, Texas or in Washington?” Inslee said.
McKenna is critical of Inslee’s plan to target green-power companies and other industries for aid. The Republican said all businesses need help and a level playing field.
“I’m leery of tax policies that pick winners and losers in the economy,” McKenna said in an interview. “Government has a very poor track record at getting those decisions right.”
The state Republican Party likes to highlight where Inslee’s predictions have fallen short.
For example, Inslee spotlighted a biodiesel plant in Grays Harbor that he thought would help the “dying timber town.” But, as Republicans point out, jobs are still scarce in the area, with Grays Harbor County reporting 12.8 percent unemployment, which is among the highest in the state.
In his book, Inslee addresses stumbles in the industry and compares them to Thomas Edison’s many failed attempts along the way to his light bulb.
Inslee says people should look at the overall success of green energy. A study by the Brookings Institution found the nation’s wind energy jobs increased nearly 15 percent per year between 2003 and 2010, while the average yearly growth was nearly 9 percent in biofuels and biomass and more than 10 percent in solar power.
“We haven’t picked any of these businesses. We’re picking innovation in general,” he said at a news conference.
In Congress, Inslee was able to help clean-energy producers with grants and loans, including federal stimulus dollars. Among the beneficiaries were makers of electric-car batteries.
Ross Macfarlane of environmental group Climate Solutions, which doesn’t endorse candidates, called Inslee “one of the two or three members of Congress from any state who is most informed and most (accomplished) in developing specific policies to drive the clean economy in really every relevant sector.”
McKenna has lined up with environmentalists on climate change in his role as the lawyer for Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Department of Ecology.
Gregoire, as attorney general, joined other states seeking to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants. McKenna joined other states in appealing to the Supreme Court, which decided the EPA had authority to act. Macfarlane said the decision was “very critical in terms of establishing national policy.”
McKenna also joined other attorneys general in defending tougher state standards for car emissions.
Green power incentives that force large utilities to make 15 percent of their power renewable — an Inslee initiative — have been applauded by both candidates.
McKenna, however, wants significant changes.
He calls for relaxing rules that have forced utilities to buy renewable power or credits regardless of whether they need them.
Tacoma Public Utilities, for example, says it already has an adequate supply of power to meet demand — mostly hydropower, which is not considered a renewable resource in most cases.
“I think we have to be careful not to require our public utilities to buy power before they need it,” Mc-Kenna said.
Tacoma wants more options for what it can do with the money it is required to spend.