Climate consultant hired to aid Washington on greenhouse gases

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A legislative workgroup chaired by Gov. Jay Inslee voted unanimously Tuesday to hire a Virginia-based climate consultant to examine Washington state's options for reducing greenhouse gases that are contributing to global climate change.

The Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup is tasked with figuring out the best way for Washington to meet its goal of slashing greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 -- and how best to reach that goal set by a Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2008.

Getting an independent evaluation of what could work in the Evergreen State is a key part of the process that Inslee wants to turn into recommendations for legislative action in 2014.

"It's a positive sign on a long route," Inslee said after the vote, which came after a three-hour presentation by the top five bidders and a debate that went off without rancor despite the sharp differences between Democrats and Republicans on the subject of human-caused climate change.

Two firms scored highest in an analysis by nonpartisan staff -- Science Applications International Corp. of McLean, Va., which was selected for the $350,000 contract, and ICF International of Fairfax, Va.

"I thought that SAIC brought … the most engineering-focused view of it," said Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, who agreed with the three other voting legislators that runner-up ICF also was a good contractor.

The work group includes Ericksen, Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker of Orcas Island, Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Seattle, and Republican Rep. Shelly Short of Addy. Inslee, a Democrat, is the nonvoting chairman.

The workgroup was formed at Inslee's request earlier this year through passage of Senate Bill 5802, which earmarks $627,000 for the project, including staff time and the consultant's contract.

The decision to hire SAIC came after the panel heard presentations from five firms among 14 that answered the state's ad for the $350,000 contract.

Short said the winning firm has an ability to get into "who bears the burden of the policy."

Ranker said the real test will come once the consultant's report is done in October, and lawmakers on the panel are tasked with developing recommendations that they think can pass in the Legislature next year.

"The whole goal — the whole strategy all along — has been to force us, Democrats and Republicans, to come to the table and have a discussion," he said. "And the discussion is to determine what actions we're going to take to address greenhouse gas emissions. It's not to talk about whether or not it's real. It's not to talk about whether it's human-caused. It's what are we going to do about it."