By Jim Brunner
Gov. Jay Inslee has failed so far to convince state legislators to go along with his proposal to meet official state greenhouse-gas-reduction targets through a new charge on carbon emissions.
But that's not stopping the first-term Democrat from committing -- symbolically at least -- to even tougher climate goals.
Inslee this week joined leaders of 11 other states and provinces in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and Canada in signing an agreement that calls for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases to 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
That's a steeper reduction than envisioned in a 2008 Washington law, which said the state would cut its emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.
The Under 2 MOU, spearheaded by California Gov. Jerry Brown, is named after the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels -- a threshold scientists say is crucial to avoid dangerous climate-change impacts.
The pact is intended to galvanize action before a United Nations climate summit scheduled for Paris in December, according to Brown's office.
Inslee, who has made fighting climate change a signature political priority, is considering attending the Paris talks, his office said Wednesday.
In a statement, Inslee said the threat of climate change "requires bold action at every level, and many of these actions must be done by local and state governments."
The agreement he signed this week is largely symbolic and does not legally bind Washington state to any specific actions.
In an appendix to the Under 2 MOU, the Inslee administration listed ongoing efforts, including the governor's stalled cap-and-trade legislation, ending reliance on coal-generated electricity and a potential new clean-fuel standard.
Inslee's endorsement of the new climate agreement drew criticism from a Republican state legislator.
"I think it's pretty extreme," said Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, one of two GOP representatives on a bipartisan panel that has studied state climate policy.
Short said Washington has done "a great job" keeping emissions relatively low and worried Inslee will use the new pact to push regulations that would hurt the state's economy and quality of life.
"We have periods of warming. We have periods of cooling. I don't know what to make of that," she said. "If you took Washington emissions and you reduce everything, in the global picture, it would amount to nothing."
Along with Washington and California, the "founding signatories" of the Under 2 MOU include Vermont and Oregon, as well as Acre, Brazil; Baden-Württemberg, Germany; Baja California, Mexico; Catalonia, Spain; Jalisco, Mexico; Ontario, Canada; British Columbia, Canada; and Wales, U.K.
Jaime Smith, an Inslee spokeswoman, said that with gridlock at the federal level, the governor sees value in a partnership with other like-minded state and provincial leaders to create momentum on climate action.
The three West Coast states and British Columbia combined would amount to the fifth-largest economy in the world. "You are talking about a pretty significant economic force," she said.
Inslee and other regional leaders signed a similarly nonbinding climate-action agreement in 2013, in which Inslee vowed to "set binding limits on carbon emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those limits."
That led to the governor's cap-and-trade legislation, which would limit overall carbon emissions and require top emitters -- including refineries, power plants and steel manufacturers -- to buy new pollution permits.
Inslee wanted to devote the nearly $1 billion a year the plan would raise to schools, transportation projects and other state priorities. But his bill has failed to pass even in the Democratic-majority state House.
Washington's greenhouse-gas targets go back to 2008, when then-Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature approved a law committing the state to lowering emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, to 25 percent below that by 2035, and to 50 percent below that by 2050.
But as Inslee has frequently pointed out, lawmakers have refused to adopt a binding plan to meet those goals. Like Inslee, Gregoire pushed for a cap-and-trade bill in 2009 but it failed despite Democrats controlling both houses of the Legislature that year.
Washington's overall emissions have remained relatively flat in recent years despite a growing population, according to the state Department of Ecology.
But without policy changes such as the cap-and-trade proposal, the state is currently projected to fall short of the 2020 target contained in current law, said Hedia Adelsman, special assistant to the director at the state Department of Ecology.
The state estimates total 2013 emissions at about 96 million metric tons, Adelsman said. That's compared with about 88 million metric tons in 1990.
While not weighing in on Inslee's policies, Amy Snover, assistant dean at the University of Washington's College of the Environment and director of the Climate Impacts Group, said there is broad agreement that the world is on pace to cross the 2-degree warming threshold.
"Without significant change we will exceed that target and we will see significant impacts at home and around the world. That part is perfectly clear," Snover said.
(c)2015 The Seattle Times