Politics Blog

Democrat Morris: Inslee carbon tax more flash than substance

It’s fair to say Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to introduce a cap-and-trade system that charges industrial polluters for carbon dioxide emissions is supported by Democrats. Our own Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who represents south Bellingham and south Whatcom County, will be prime sponsor of the legislation once the Senate bill drops.

However, it’s not instructive to say Democrats en masse are behind Inslee on the carbon tax. To find one who’s banging a different beat on his drum, look no further than another 40th District lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon.

Morris first signaled that he wasn’t an Inslee follow-dog last month on Twitter, where he referred to house members who sponsor Inslee legislation as “ sycophants,” and used an NFL metaphor to cast himself as the star wide receiver who isn’t getting enough plays from the “ climate change franchise QB” Inslee. Riley Sweeney’s blog broke the news of the now-deleted Tweets right after they appeared.

I asked Morris about those tweets in an interview last week.

There’s been “a lot of disappointment in the House,” Morris said, because Inslee went around the Legislature in an effort to make progress on his climate agenda, in order to avoid Republican roadblocks.

“I agree with the governor on his policy outcomes,” Morris said. “I have a ton of experience about how the (energy) industry works. For me or other (House) members not to be consulted at all, asked what to do, vs. it just being dropped in our laps is disappointing.”

As it is, Morris said, the House version of Inslee’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act probably won’t go through the Technology and Economic Development Committee, which he chairs.

“It’s not my No. 1 issue,” he said.

Morris continued distancing himself from Inslee in a House Democrats’ press release, issued Tuesday, Jan. 13. In it, Morris is portrayed as seeking to “reinvent the energy sector,” a role he alluded to in a statement for The Bellingham Herald’s article previewing the 2015 legislative session.

The press release begins,

With the topic of climate change a major focus of the governor’s agenda, there is much talk and debate about the state’s energy policies — very little of which sheds much light on the real issues facing Washington state’s energy sector today.

In contrast, Rep. Jeff Morris (D-Mount Vernon), a leader on energy policy in the House of Representatives since 1996, introduced his energy policy bill package late last week on topics ranging from aligning electric utility ratemaking with customer values, promoting distributed generation, encouraging thermal efficiency and adopting appliance efficiency standards, and building the clean energy sector of the state’s economy.

A lot of technical and buzzwords in that sentence, part of the reason this star wide receiver doesn’t get much consideration for MVP.

From the release:

“I’ve worked for nearly two decades to reduce this state’s carbon footprint,” Rep. Morris said. “Day-to-day policy work results in few political speeches, but it lays the foundation for real bottom-up change we need, in order to create jobs and reduce all of our pollution levels. I hope the Senate and governor will engage in the debate on these highly technical, and perhaps ‘unsexy’ energy topics for Washington state’s future.”

Morris was critical of both Inslee and the governor’s rival in the Senate, Ferndale Republican Doug Ericksen, in recounting how Ericksen killed a Morris bill that would have extended natural gas to underserved areas.

Morris said Ericksen killed the bill in 2014 because Morris didn’t pass through his committee a nuclear task force bill favored by Ericksen.

“It had no opposition to it. It would have reached Republican and Democratic areas,” Morris said of the natural gas expansion.

Ericksen declined to comment.

Morris said there weren’t enough votes in his committee to pass Ericksen’s nuclear bill.

“I can’t run bills out with the Republicans just to solve a political problem,” Morris said. Speaking of Inslee and Ericksen both, Morris added, “By focusing on the politics with issues, they’re losing sight of the policy.”

Morris’ bill package tries to strike a balance between encouraging continued expansion of solar power at homes and businesses, and keeping utilities fiscally stable as they take a hit in revenue from the expansion of solar.

Go to the online version of the Morris press release to find links to the bills Morris has introduced so far.