Carbon emission proposal “chasing a phantom”

Carbon emission proposal “chasing a phantom”
ESHB 1144 would require Washington state to adhere to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. would withdraw from the pact. Photo: : Steve Voght

House lawmakers narrowly approved legislation Feb. 14 imposing more stringent carbon emission reduction goals for Washington state.

ESHB 1144 would revise benchmarks created in a 2008 state law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as compared to 1990 levels. The 50-48 vote came after lengthy debate over various amendments which reflected a sharply divided chamber.

Proponents argue that the new thresholds will help Washington adhere to provisions of the 2015 Paris climate agreement after President Donald Trump announced the U.S.’s withdrawal. However, opponents say the stricter standards will drive further economic loss for Washington, as businesses will relocate to other states and countries with less stringent regulations.

“The real problem with this, like many similar bills, is that it’s chasing a phantom,” Rep. Jim Walsh (R-19) said on the House floor. “It is attempting to affect global policy, global climate issues by enforcing a framework that will lead to policy here on our state’s businesses and residents. This is ultimately impossible. Our regulatory agencies following the mindset of this and others look to warp our permitting process and our regulatory process that are in place…with these global delusions.”

Similar opinions were offered by other Republicans such as Rep. David Taylor (R-15). “The fact of the matter is we’re not looking at the impact this is going to have on our families. When we look at the urban areas of Washington state that rely on the rest of Washington for fresh produce and fresh vegetables, we drive those goods to the urban areas, and now we’re going to potentially increase the cost of that. It’s frustrating, frankly, that we’re even having this debate.”

The state legislature in 2008 set the following carbon emission reduction goals:

  • By 2020, reduce emissions to 1990 levels
  • By 2035, reduce emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels
  • By 2050, reducing overall emissions to half of 1990 levels

ESHB 1144 would revise those goals to the following:

  • By 2020, reduce emissions in the state to 1990 levels (no change)
  • By 2025, reduce emissions to 19 percent below 1990 levels, but attempt to reach 21 percent below 1990 levels as part of the Paris climate agreement
  • By 2035, reduce emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels
  • By 2050, reduce emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels

ESHB 1144’s prime sponsor is Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34), with 12 Democrat cosponsors. Speaking in opposition to a proposed amendment to the bill to make the reductions based on “per capita” he said: “The atmosphere does not care how many people live in Washington. We need to make the reductions irrespective of whether our population is growing or declining. The emissions are real, they’re having an impact, and the number of people causing those emissions does not change how much those heat-trapping gasses will affect our state.”

Rep. Jaquelyn Maycumber (R-7) disagreed. “Assigning an arbitrary number to a state whose population is increasing does not make sense.”

In support of ESHB 1144 was Rep. Strom Peterson (D-21): “What this bill will accomplish is put everyone on notice: Washington is ready to lead the next economy, and that’s the clean energy economy.”

One of the many debates prior to the vote was whether the law should separate natural and man-made carbon emissions.  Rep. Vincent Buys (R-42) pointed to the carbon emitted by Mount Baker, which he claimed was greater than any of the industrial employers in his district. “If we want to put a cork in Mount Baker, that might do more, but I don’t think this bill does that.”

The bill directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) to submit a report to the legislature by 2019 and every five years after that regarding the economic impacts from the greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Matt Shea (R-4) opined that further investment in state forestland restoration would have greater impact on carbon emissions.

Taylor said: “Let’s pretend for a second in some utopian fantasy every one of us in the state of Washington leaves. There’s no vehicles. There’s nothing happening. There’s no business. Guess what? We’re still not going to meet the benchmarks, because we’re not doing anything to manage forests.”

ESHB 1144 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy, Environment & Technology and is scheduled for a public hearing on Feb. 21.

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