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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Local View: Public needs voice in carbon debate

The Columbian
Published: August 3, 2014, 12:00am

There’s enough chatter at the Capitol about a pair of climate-change policies — familiar but complex proposals known as “cap-and-trade” and “low-carbon fuel standards” — that it’s time to ask: What do these confusing and complicated discussions mean for the average Washington resident?

Both cap-and-trade and LCFS deal with controlling the production of carbon. The two main sources of carbon emissions are motor vehicles and power plants that generate electricity.

Washington is already a low-carbon place — especially when compared to a carbon giant such as China, which produces around 8,000 million metric tons annually compared to Washington’s 96 million. And while China’s carbon emissions are on the rise, Washington continues to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint without layering on new costly and intrusive regulations.

That said, we need to have these discussions if Washington wants to be a leader in energy. Last year, a bipartisan group of legislators joined to form the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup to begin studying climate policy and its effect on family budgets and job creation.

One study shows that cap-and-trade could ultimately cost each Washington household upwards of $8,200 in disposable income per year and eliminate up to 82,000 jobs.

At the same time, LCFS could add more than $1 per gallon to the price of gasoline — on top of any fuel-tax increase that comes out of Olympia. That isn’t exactly pocket change considering the average driver buys 558 gallons of gas every year.

Given what climate-change policies could mean to the average Joe, then, it’s important to have these conversations out in the open, free from politics and based on sound science.

Unfortunately, the governor chose to carry out his personal agenda on climate change and bypass the legislative process when he issued an executive order this spring. By strategically choosing a group of 21 people, many from special-interest groups that would benefit from aggressive carbon regulation, to vet his ideas, he has put the Legislature and the public on the sideline.

It is of utmost importance that the leaders of our state create policy that is driven by science rather than politics.

While I am sure people across Washington would agree that cleaner air is a good thing, I’m gravely concerned that all of this will not actually produce meaningful results.

Cap-and-trade programs in Europe and California haven’t been runaway successes at reducing carbon emissions, even though taxes and energy prices have increased. Additionally, the top-down approach to controlling carbon emissions would give bureaucrats the power to ultimately determine the type of car you drive, the type of house you can build, and whether your business survives.

Is that to be the future of our state?

If we are going to seriously pursue a war on carbon, let’s employ workable policies based on facts and proven results — not ineffective schemes.

Let’s look at proven energy solutions such as hydroelectric power, natural gas and nuclear technologies. And most importantly, let’s have a transparent, inclusive discussion across the state to chart the best course for Washington’s future.

We should not use executive power to mandate technological breakthroughs. And political influence should not trump the priorities of poor and middle-class families who will bear the brunt of the proposed changes through the loss of jobs, drops in household income, and hikes in sewer, electricity and fuel bills.

Becoming a world-class leader in carbon reduction and new energy sources does not mean we have to limit job opportunities and personal freedoms here at home.

State Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is the Majority Whip in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.

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