State senators for Whatcom County remain far apart in climate talks

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 8, 2014 

Talks between Democrats and Republicans on a state climate workgroup stalled on Wednesday, Jan. 8, after Republicans issued a statement saying they wanted to spend a year studying the costs of carbon-reduction proposals.

From the moment legislation creating the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup was finalized, it appeared the group would have trouble reaching consensus. Ultimately, it never got close.

The workgroup is comprised of two state senators, two state representatives and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat. Late in the bill's development, Republicans stripped Inslee of his vote on the workgroup, leaving the decisions to two Republicans and two Democrats.

The two senators represent Whatcom County: Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who is Washington Conservation Voters' 2013 Legislator of the Year; and Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who has described himself as a "climate agnostic."

The workgroup began meeting in May and had until Dec. 31 to recommend to the 2014 state Legislature an action plan for reducing the state's atmospheric carbon emissions. A 2008 law set carbon-reduction goals for 2020, 2030 and 2050 that consultants say will not be met unless action is taken.

Even though the deadline was about to pass, Ranker said in an interview on Dec. 31 that the group was still hard at work.

"There are still good conversations going on," Ranker said at the time.

Even if the group had reached a late agreement, it would not have been ready with an action plan for the Legislature this year. (The session opens on Monday, Jan. 13.)

Officials would have spent this year designing a cap-and-trade market or a carbon tax "from the bottom up," Ranker said.

Republican group members Ericksen and Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, were not inclined to accept a tax or a cap-and-trade program. The typical cap-and-trade system sets limits on carbon output and allows those under the limit to sell credits to businesses that produce too much. Carbon dioxide, released during combustion, is a greenhouse gas known to contribute to atmospheric warming.

The Republicans have been calling for a thorough study of the economic impacts carbon-reduction programs would have on home- and business owners. Their energy-policy recommendations focused on more hydropower, nuclear power and conservation.

"We are a low carbon-producing state, and we have to make sure that we do not penalize ourselves for being a hydro state," Ericksen wrote on Monday, Jan. 6, in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

Ranker and the other Democrats have said any cost analysis should include the cost of doing nothing for industries threatened by climate change, such as shellfish growers and farmers.

In a statement responding to the Republicans' Jan. 8 press release, Ranker suggested the Democrats in the group, including Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon of Burien, may continue the work on their own.

"While I'm disappointed, I'm also optimistic that Gov. Inslee, Rep. Fitzgibbon and I can continue to work on solutions to this very serious issue that impacts every person in our state and planet," Ranker said in the statement.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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