Politics Blog

Republicans dodge climate-change discussion in WA Senate

The Republican-backed Senate bill 5735 has a name with an environmentalist bent: “Providing incentives for carbon-reduction investments.”

When a mostly Republican contingent of the state Senate unveiled an energy package on Feb. 4 that included SB 5735, it felt like a response to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, which would also reduce carbon emissions.

The Senate bill deals with Initiative 937, approved by voters in 2006, which requires utilities to increasingly generate power using renewable resources such as solar and wind power. By 2020, 15 percent of a utility’s power must be renewable.

Here’s an excerpt from the story I wrote on Feb. 4 about the bill:

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.

If you find a tension in the bill’s title and Ericksen’s statement, you’re not alone. Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland, on Friday, March 6, proposed an amendment to 5735 on the Senate floor. Habib wanted to bring “climate change” into the bill.

Habib proposed the following language be added to the bill, as reported by Seattle Met:

“The Legislature finds that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to climate change. The Legislature further finds that climate change is harming the state and that without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions the harm to the state will be greatly increased.”

The amendment also was reported by The Seattle Times.

Ericksen, the bill’s prime sponsor, objected by saying the statements were outside the scope of the bill.

The amendment on Monday, March 9, was allowed by the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate. Here’s a summary in three tweets of what transpired, from two journalists on the scene:

It appears that the Republican-majority Senate avoided discussion of climate change on this day. We’ll keep an eye on SB 5735 and see if the GOP will risk bringing it to the floor again and revisiting the climate-change conversation.