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Jan. 27, 2023

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In Our View: Climate Still Issue for State

Exhaustive report details effects, threats in Northwest, across United States

The Columbian
Published:

Where do we go from here?

Washington voters last month rejected Initiative 1631, a carbon fee measure that would have charged emitters for polluting the atmosphere and contributing to global climate change.

And they are, indeed, contributing. A report issued by the federal government in late November details the impact of climate change on the Northwest, pointing to increased landslides, flooding, drought and wildfires. It suggests that Northwest industries linked to natural resources — skiing, fishing, agriculture — will be altered by climate change. It says that infrastructure will be impacted by longer, more intense heat waves and stronger storms.

This was not the conclusion of some ideologically driven advocates. About 1,000 scientists and 13 federal agencies compiled the report, which is mandated by Congress.

Initiative 1631 was designed to help mitigate some of those effects in Washington. Voters rejected it. So where do we go from here?

One frequent criticism about efforts to curb carbon emissions in Washington is that they will have little impact on the global climate. While that is true, it should not absolve our residents of their moral duty to embrace efforts to protect the environment for future generations. Nor should it eclipse the economic opportunities offered by becoming a leader in clean-energy alternatives and reducing carbon emissions.

As Gov. Jay Inslee has said: “These changes in our natural systems will bring significant consequences for the economy, infrastructure, natural systems, and human health of this region. And we need to be planning for that. … The decisions we make going forward about greenhouse gas emissions will have a significant effect on our children’s and grandchildren’s futures.”

Editorially, The Columbian opposed I-1631 for a variety of reasons. For one, it was easy to see how fees upon carbon emitters would be passed along to customers, raising the price of energy and other necessities. For another, the initiative would have established an independent board to determine how revenue is distributed.

A more palatable approach for voters would be a statewide mandate for 100 percent renewable energy. In 2005, 52 percent of Washington voters approved a measure requiring public utilities to obtain 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, although hydropower was inexplicably not counted as “renewable.” If hydroelectricity is added to the mix — along with nuclear — it is reasonable to expect Washington electricity to be 100 percent renewable by 2045, matching Hawaii’s stated goal.

Washington also should echo California’s efforts to require low-emission vehicles. That state has established strict emission guidelines for the 2020 model year and is fighting Trump administration efforts to roll back federal guidelines. Washington should establish emission limits for new cars while incentivizing the use of electric vehicles.

Washington’s Department of Ecology has a stated goal of limiting overall carbon emissions by 2035, calling for a reduction of 25 percent from 1990 levels. Greater reductions are required by 2050. Achieving those benchmarks will require forward thinking by the Legislature and a vision that sees the economic opportunities presented by innovative industries.

As Inslee has said, “We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it.”

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