State Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, not known for his environmental record, said he and his mostly Republican allies in the Senate have outdone the Democrats in proposing solutions to carbon pollution.
Four bills announced Wednesday, Feb. 4, at a news conference by Ericksen and five other senators — four from the Republican-dominated majority caucus and one Democrat — wouldn’t necessarily replace Gov. Jay Inslee’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act. Ericksen, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, said he would give the governor’s bill a hearing after it comes out of the House.
But the suite of Republican-sponsored bills would be more effective, he said, not only at creating jobs, but at reducing the emission of carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas that scientists say is responsible for rising global temperatures that are leading to sea level rise, and more severe droughts and wildfires.
Inslee’s plan would create a cap-and-trade market that would force the state’s largest carbon polluters to reach a carbon reduction target in 2020 from a law passed in 2008.
Unlike Inslee’s proposal, the Republican-sponsored package offers “real solutions,” Ericksen said, “without the heavy hand of the regulatory environment being the one that drives it.”
The centerpiece bill in the package, Ericksen’s SB 5735, would allow electric utilities to invest in carbon-reduction strategies to meet mandated alternative-energy requirements under Initiative 937. The initiative, passed by voters in 2006, requires utilities to get at least 9 percent of their power from renewable resources, not including hydropower, by 2016. The renewable requirement increases to 15 percent in 2020.
Under the bill, utilities could get credit toward the I-937 requirement a number of ways, such as building electric car charging stations along Interstate 5, or developing battery-storage technology, Ericksen said.
The initiative has not been effective in its current form, Ericksen said.
“Utilities have been forced to purchase renewable energy they did not need to meet their load base, and have been selling low-cost hydropower to other states,” Ericksen said.
“Here’s a solution that will meet a lot of people’s goals and do it more cost-effectively,” Ericksen said in a phone interview after the news conference.
By “a lot of people,” he includes Democrats and environmentalists who support policies that could slow climate change and reduce its harmful impacts. But Ericksen, who has a lifetime score of 4 out of 100 on Washington Conservation Voters’ environmental scorecard, rejected the label “climate plan” to describe the bill package.
“No, this is an energy plan for Washington state and the end result is, we’re going to produce less carbon,” Ericksen said at the news conference.
Other bills in the package:
gives tax breaks to companies in the modular nuclear reactor industry. Nuclear energy production does not emit carbon dioxide.
creates tax incentives for commercial truck fleets to convert to alternative fuels such as low-carbon natural gas or hydrogen.
requires the conversion of certain state ferries to liquified natural gas.
At least one Democratic senator not in the majority caucus supports the bill package. Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, stood with Ericksen at the news conference.
While giving the Ericksen package her blessing, Chase also said Inslee’s cap-and-trade and his sales-tax break for electric vehicles should be considered.
“Today marks the beginning and a starting point of a nonpartisan dialogue we all know needs to take place if we hope to effectively and sensibly address this terrible carbon problem,” Chase said. “Only an unflinching consideration of all the solutions can give us answers to the challenges ahead of us.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor’s office will need to review the Republican proposal more thoroughly before giving a detailed response. Postman did have some initial thoughts. He pointed out that Ericksen said the bills do not relate to the 2008 law that set a carbon reduction goal for 2020, so they would not measure how much they are contributing to that goal.
“I’m glad to hear several Republican senators talk about reducing carbon,” said Postman, who attended the news conference. “What I guess I hope is that this is a willingness and an openness to take real action and not just a change in language to justify less than substantive action.”
The carbon-reduction bill that would rewrite I-937 gets a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, in Olympia, before Ericksen’s energy committee.