There is a growing consensus among business leaders across the state that addressing climate change needs to be a priority for Washington. Our forests are ravaged by increasingly frequent and severe fires, our waters and fisheries are being harmed by rising ocean acidification and our communities are threatened by increased flooding. Scientists are resolved that these impacts will worsen unless we act. The cause of the problem is carbon emissions from fossil fuels and we need to limit that pollution.
As business owners we believe in market-based approaches, not extra government regulations. Market mechanisms for cutting pollution have a track record of success. Ronald Reagan ordered industrial polluters to enter into a cap-and-trade program to cut lead emissions. George Bush Sr. oversaw implemented of a similar program to reduce the pollution responsible for acid rain. These tools have proven to be an efficient, business friendly way to reduce and mitigate our impacts while creating economic opportunities.
Market based approaches for reduction and mitigation of carbon pollution are already working for many of our neighbors. Nine Northeastern states have had a market-based system since 2007. California and British Columbia have them and they are working well. Even China is implementing a carbon cap-and-trade program. If done correctly, cutting carbon pollution will mean growing a clean energy economy. Last September Washington State’s Office of Fiscal Management modeled the impacts of pricing carbon. They found that there would be no harm to the economy if implemented, but rather a small increase in the state’s rate of growth. This growth would be seen in both the GDP and jobs. As business owners we are excited about these prospects.
Washington State’s construction industry is poised for growth. One of the most cost effective ways to reduce carbon is by remodeling homes and commercial buildings. A market mechanism to regulate carbon will mean substantial investment in improving existing buildings. These jobs will pay living wages and cannot be outsourced.
There are great opportunities in the manufacturing sector to reduce carbon emissions. ITEK Energy, located in Bellingham, is a perfect example. They are Washington State’s largest solar manufacturer and employ 76 people and plan to expand soon. There are currently more than 129 solar companies at work throughout the value chain in Washington.
Economies focused on clean energy also create new types of revenue for farmers. Several Whatcom dairy farms already supplement their income through biodigesters, producing clean electricity from composting manure. Farmers in other parts of the state are already benefiting by leasing land for wind energy development, activity that is compatible with continued farming. Expanded markets for biofuel crops and offset payments for soil and forest carbon preservation are exciting prospects opened up in a clean energy economy.
Clean energy also creates jobs. Per dollar spent, clean energy investments create roughly three times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels. A 2009 study by the Center for American Progress titled “Green Prosperity” found that investing $1 million in clean energy programs creates 16.7 jobs on average, compared to the 5.3 jobs from the same amount invested in the fossil fuel sector.
These are just some of the reasons why more than 100 major employers in Washington including Virginia Mason, Microsoft and REI signed the Business Climate Declaration and support taking action. Gov. Inslee heard that call and introduced legislation, which will have its first hearing on Monday, Jan. 27. This proposal would invest in the foundations of our economy: education and transportation. It would also provide tax relief for manufacturers and working families who may be exposed to higher energy costs and invest in rural economic development. It is not often that an opportunity to solve so many challenges at once presents itself. That is why we are inviting other business leaders, both big and small, to join us in signing on.
The Governor’s proposal is a good start to the conversation. There are other ideas for solutions and details to be resolved. This discussion needs voices from all over the state. Smart solutions require leaders from both parties to compromise. Working together, we can transform our economy from dirty to clean, from old to innovative, and from idle to productive.