Saturday, May 28, 2022
May 28, 2022

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Jayne: Inslee: Change in air for climate

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

As Jay Inslee sees it, the immovable object is starting to budge.

“I think there’s been remarkable changes in the past decade on this issue,” Washington’s two-term Democratic governor says. “I think the public is understanding what we can do to create a clean-energy economy. What was exotic 10 years ago is now commonplace.”

Inslee is conducting a phone interview in advance of a recent visit to Vancouver. And he’s talking about climate change.

Of course he is. Since making climate change and clean energy the foundation of his initial run for governor eight years ago, Inslee has turned into a full-fledged climate evangelist as he manages the final year of his second term and prepares to campaign for a third term.

Like any evangelist, he is followed by a combination of full-throated believers, recent converts, and skeptics. And, like any tent-stop preacher, he continues to expound the gospel that informs his beliefs.

“The other change,” he says, “unfortunately is that what I thought was going to happen is happening. We have Dungeness crabs that can’t grow shells because of ocean acidification. And the California wildfires and Australian fires — we had half a continent burning. And now the locusts — cue the locusts — in Africa.” In case you missed it, East Africa is suffering from a plague of locusts, which devastate crops and might or might not be a warning of Biblical proportions.

Unless you are planning on moving to South Sudan, this probably will not be a big concern for you. But Inslee’s efforts to convert legislators in Olympia should be.

There, lawmakers are considering a clean fuels bill (House Bill 1110) that would require a reduction in carbon emissions from gasoline and diesel fuels — 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2028, and a 20 percent reduction by 2035. The program would establish a trading system where deficits for carbon-intensive fossil fuels could be offset by ethanol, biodiesel or other alternatives.

The measure passed the House by a 52-44 vote and will receive a hearing Monday in the Senate’s Transportation Committee. Among Clark County representatives, Democrats Monica Stonier and Sharon Wylie voted in favor, while local Republicans were opposed. At least they didn’t walk out to prevent a vote, which has been the tactic of Republicans in Oregon.

Washington has taken strides in recent years to limit carbon emissions. A clean-energy initiative was passed by voters in 2006, requiring utilities to acquire increasing amounts of their electricity from renewable resources. But other climate initiatives have been rejected more recently, reflecting the tightrope between reducing emissions without putting too much of a burden on taxpayers. But the clean-fuel drive might be the most ambitious yet.

According to the most recent numbers from the state Department of Ecology, about 40 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the legislation would be “the same as taking millions of cars off the streets without taking millions of cars off the streets. It allows us to keep our quality of life just by being cleaner about how we go about our business.”

Critics say it also would lead to big jumps in gas prices. But Oregon has seen an increase of 2.2 cents per gallon since enacting a similar law; California has seen a jump of about 9 cents. That adds up for consumers, but it is hardly the doomsday scenario predicted by opponents.

All of which represents the changing nature of Inslee’s proselytizing. Years ago, in talking with The Columbian’s Editorial Board about some climate initiative or another, the governor spoke about big ideas requiring time to grab the attention of the public. Since then, he has been perfectly happy to play Sisyphus, constantly pushing the boulder up the hill regardless of how many times it rolls back down.

With the prospects for a clean fuel bill in the Legislature looking iffy but promising, that boulder is getting easier and easier to push.

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