Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has said in the past that he wants to be the nation’s green-energy governor, a proclamation that is likely to turn some critics red in the face. Yet while talk of earth-friendly business and industry often is a magnet for naysayers, Inslee’s latest foray into the field appears to be a reasonable starting point.
On Monday in San Francisco, Inslee joined California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and British Columbia environmental minister Mary Polak to launch an initiative geared toward making the West Coast a continuing leader in environmental concerns. Issuing a joint statement and a two-page action plan, the leaders declared war on climate change and ocean acidification while promoting clean-energy industries. The nonbinding declaration is more symbolic than practical, but it could serve as a blueprint for important discussions.
“We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation who can do something about it,” Inslee said. Hyperbole aside, the deal stems from the work of the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a group designed to organize clean-energy policies in a region that has a combined gross domestic product of $2.8 trillion, which would make it the world’s fifth-largest economy if it were a separate nation. In other words, how the West Coast responds to climate change will have a global impact.
Of course, the notion of climate change remains a hot-button topic in the United States. While most climate scientists agree that global warming does exist and that it largely is the result of human activity, the theory generates some opposition. For example, a 2,000-page report issued in September by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that humans almost certainly cause global warming, primarily through the emission of greenhouse gasses. At the same time, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean exhibited a sharp recovery this year, with 50 percent more ice surviving the summer melting season than in 2012.
We’ll lean toward the side of science when it comes to global warming, acknowledging that we aren’t going to find unanimity on the issue and stressing that we can agree on the economic opportunities the situation presents to the West Coast. The plan issued by the leaders states that, “The governments of California, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will work together to build an integrated West Coast market for low-carbon fuels that keeps energy dollars in the region, creates economic development opportunities for regional fuel production, and ensures predictability and consistency in the market.” That might score an 11 on a 10-point scale for vagueness, but that’s OK. The gist is that Washington, with a long history of environmental awareness, can position itself to be a leader in a green economy.
At the same time, the initiative for the states and British Columbia suggests that they will coordinate emissions standards. This will be more problematic, as the legislatures in both Washington and Oregon have rejected efforts to place a price on carbon emissions through cap-and-trade policies (providing economic incentives for reducing pollutants) or a carbon tax. Meanwhile, California’s strict emissions standards, signed into law in 2006, are being held up by legal challenges.
The issue of climate change is not going away, and governments will need to strike a balance between economic development and environmental concerns. Ideally, those two notions can coexist.