Politics Blog

Climate change human caused? Wash. Senate says maybe

Republicans’ willingness to utter “climate change” in the state Senate has evolved over two years.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, drafted language with those two words that ended up making it into Senate Bill 5735 when it passed the full Senate Monday evening, March 9.

“The Legislature finds that climate change is real and that human activity may contribute to climate change,” the bill says, per an amendment Ericksen introduced.

In 2013, Ericksen removed references to climate change and its dangers from the bill that created the Climate Legislative and Executive Work Group. In the end, the group, which consisted of Gov. Jay Inslee, Ericksen, Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, and two House members, didn’t reach agreement on how to meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

This outcome was almost guaranteed when Ericksen also altered the 2013 bill to make Inslee a nonvoting member of the group, leaving two Democrats and two Republicans to seek consensus (or at least a 3-1 majority) on how to reduce carbon emissions.

When that didn’t happen, Inslee in April 2014 issued an executive order outlining proposals for meeting emissions reduction targets, some of which would make it to the current legislative session.

On a separate track, Ericksen also was busy developing carbon-reduction legislation: SB 5735, which gives utilities new ways to meet renewable-energy targets. These ways would include carbon-reduction projects such as electric car charging stations. They would be added to the other options for coming into compliance with the 2006 Initiative 937, which requires utilities to generate 15 percent of their power via renewable resources by 2020.

Back to Ericksen’s reference to “climate change:” His wording got into the intent section of the bill through the back door, as an alternative to language introduced earlier by Sen. Cyrus Habib, D-Kirkland. The Democratic Senator had written, “The Legislature finds that climate change is real and that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

So the final version of the language, which passed along mostly party lines, replaced “human activity significantly contributes” with “human activity may contribute to climate change.”

This didn’t sit well with some Democrats, including Ranker, who represents south Bellingham and south Whatcom County.

“Are we literally debating the science of climate change on this floor right now?” Ranker said. “Are we saying that science does not very clearly show that climate change is human caused? Because it is. Climate change is human caused. It is not a debate any longer. … We need to stop waffling on this.”

Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, commented similarly: “By use of the word ‘may,’ we really are setting out the idea that we are not sure in the state of Wash that human activities contribute to climate change.”

For his part, Ericksen said the amendment to the intent section of the bill, which carries no legal weight, was a “diversion” that distracted from the main point of the legislation.

“I think this is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will be brought before us this year,” Ericksen said.

“At the end of the day, after we keep energy costs low, after we invest in jobs here in Washington state, we’re going to have less carbon produced in Wash state because of the clean energy that we’re going to be investing in — and that will be a good thing, I believe, for all of us,” Ericksen said.

Ericksen’s SB 5735 passed 26-23. Three Republicans — Steve Litzow of Mercer Island, Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Andy Hill of Redmond — voted against the bill. Three Democrats voted for it: Maralyn Chase of Shoreline, Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam and Brian Hatfield of Raymond.

The bill heads to the Democrat-controlled House for consideration.