Politics Blog

Sen. Ericksen, in key environment post, takes wait-and-see approach to Inslee carbon-reduction plan

The state Legislature has a tall order ahead of it. No, not the billions of dollars it needs to find to properly fund K-12 education, as ruled in 2012 by the state Supreme Court.

There is that, but there is also the law it passed in 2008, requiring that emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases in the state be brought to 1990 levels by 2020, and down to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.

It’s already 2014, and nothing has been done so far. Gov. Jay Inslee, who has garnered national attention as a combatant against the effects of climate change, appears to have chosen 2015 as the year to get something done.

It won’t be easy. Someone who could stand in his way is from our neck of the woods, the Republican state senator from Ferndale, Doug Ericksen.

But Ericksen is withholding judgment on what might be coming to the Legislature from Inslee in the session that begins in January.

This month, Ericksen handily defeated his Democratic challenger, Seth Fleetwood, in part by linking (or independent campaigns on Ericksen’s side linking) Fleetwood to Inslee’s supposed “$1 a gallon” tax on gasoline that would come with the governor’s carbon reduction plan.

The $1-a-gallon turns out to be a stretch, even as it was an effective campaign tagline. Depending on the report, carbon reduction would increase price of gasoline by 12 cents by 2026, or 39 cents by 2035, the latter figure mentioned in this Seattle Times article.

According to The Seattle Times, Ericksen and Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, penned a letter to Inslee warning him to be wary as he pushes his carbon plan. In an interview on Wednesday evening, Nov. 19, Ericksen said he and King were commenting on the governor’s low-carbon fuel standard.

“We do have concerns about the way he’s going about that,” Ericksen said in the phone interview. “He thinks he can do that by executive order, which is concerning to many people.”

In the letter, Ericksen and King said, “We also strongly encourage you to consider our substantive comments on your proposals, as the economic ramifications of those policies will ultimately determine their fate in Washington.” (This according to The Seattle Times. I was unable to track down the letter myself, late this afternoon.)

A climate change task force appointed by Inslee turned in a report to the governor on Monday, Nov. 17, also warning against the economic impacts of carbon reduction. This was a group criticized by conservatives for being one-sided, more or less aligned with Inslee’s pre-existing tendencies on carbon policy.

Inslee would institute a cap-and-trade program for carbon, or — his second choice — a tax on carbon. (For a rosy overview of how cap and trade would work, click here. For a glowing review of carbon taxation, click here.)

While Inslee says he has the power to impose carbon reduction programs by executive fiat, he has not said whether he would do that. According to one of the Seattle Times items, the governor “said he intends to expose his plan to ‘a long public comment process’ before seeking legislative approval.”

Sitting in a key role in the Legislature is Ericksen, who is chairman of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. (Environmentalist Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, was offered a co-chairmanship ahead of the 2013 session, but he turned it down.)

Ericksen was highly critical of the Inslee executive order in April that formed the Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force that reported on Monday.

From a statement by Ericksen on April 29:

“We have only to look to California to see where the high cost of cap-and-trade policies will take Washington: a projected 40-cent spike in the cost of a gallon of gas. California is now embroiled in costly litigation over its cap-and-trade policies and has suspended the implementation of its low-carbon fuel standards due to massive compliance problems. These are the same policies that Governor Inslee is determined to impose on Washington.”

Today, Ericksen is more reserved in his tone toward the governor’s plan, recognizing that he hasn’t announced one yet.

“We are waiting to see the proposals the governor actually comes out with,” Ericksen said.

That cap and trade or a carbon tax are being discussed isn’t news, he said.

“I could have told you that two years ago. … We’re waiting for details to come out. I can’t be against a plan that the governor hasn’t come out with yet,” Ericksen said.

That plan is expected next month, around the time the governor releases his proposed 2015-17 state budget.