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WA: House OKs greenhouse gas bill, whether it’s needed or not

By Jeff Rhodes
The Olympia Report

Posted 3/25/2013

Olympia, WA – The Washington State House of Representatives on Monday approved a key element of Gov. Jay Inslee’s cherished environmental agenda after first voting down four separate amendments designed to gauge whether the legislation was needed in the first place.

Approved in the Senate last week, the bill, SB-5802, would set aside $250,000 to create a panel charged with developing ways to enforce the greenhouse gas standards adopted by the Legislature in 2008 but never implemented.

Accepting the controversial assumption that carbon-dioxide — specifically from man-made sources — is depleting the earth’s ozone layer and fueling climate change, Washington state lawmakers in 2008 passed legislation that would:
• by 2020, reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels;
• by 2035, reduce GHG emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels; and,
• by 2050, reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels, or 70 percent below the state’s expected emissions that year.

What the legislators neglected to provide, however, was a clear roadmap for how to achieve those standards. SB-5802, would create a legislative task force to study the problem and hire an independent consultant to develop solutions.

“Our constituents are seeing the effects of climate change in their daily lives in the form of extreme weather, higher temperatures and the economic costs that result,” said Rep. David Upthegrove (D-Des Moines). “We already have established in our state greenhouse gas emissions targets, and we’re making some progress meeting those goals. But we’re not on target.

“Rising to the challenge of climate change is the right and responsible thing to do,” he said. “We owe it to our kids and our grandkids because running away from tough problems only makes them worse.”

Republicans on Monday said they would be willing to support a study, but only if it included provisions that revisited the larger question of whether climate change was, in fact, worth the expense and economic upheaval meeting the proposed standards would cause.

“We need to study our current ability to accept and absorb the renewable energy sources we have into our energy grid,” argued Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick), “because many people believe there are no additional energy resources needed at this time.”

Klippert noted that 84 percent of Washington’s current energy comes from hydroelectric dams, with another 9 percent coming from nuclear generators and the remaining 7 percent divided between coal and wind power.

“Right now, approximately 1,000 megawatt hours of hydroelectric power isn’t being used because we’re trying to create a demand for wind power that costs about twice as much to produce,” he said. “There’s much belief that our ratepayers are paying more than they should to support the generation of power they don’t need.”

In addition to Klippert’s amendment requiring the greenhouse gas report to explore whether the renewable, non-carbon-based energy technologies envisioned by Inslee and environmental activists were actually needed, other GOP-sponsored amendments would have:
• scrutinized the long-term viability of solar energy in light of recent difficulties faced by solar panel producers in China as well as the Solyndra scandal in the U.S.;
• evaluated whether the technological challenges and expense of wind power prevented it from being economically feasible in its current form; and,
• compared the cost-efficiency of renewable energy technologies with hydroelectric power to assess whether converting from one non-carbon energy source to another made economic sense.

The amendments were all defeated along mostly party lines by Democrats who insist the current bill makes no invalid assumptions and is flexible enough to accommodate skepticism of the process.

“We have an opportunity in this state to have we the people, through a bipartisan, transparent and inclusive process be the ones who develop solutions that work for Washington families,” Upthegrove said. “We can meet our responsibilities and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and do so in a way that strengthens our economy, creates jobs and does the right thing for the next generation.”

“I’m offended by some of what I’m hearing,” said Rep. Shelly Short (R-Addy). “When we talk about running away from problems, I think that’s far from the truth. Most of this, quite candidly, is solutions searching for problems.

“As we usher in the clean-energy sector, I don’t want to take away any of the manufacturing or other jobs we already have,” she said. “I want growth on top of what we already have, not instead of it. Too often we pick winners and losers, and that’s not fair to the people in this state who are already working hard to pay the taxes we’re going to use to support these other, more speculative areas.”

The bill was approved 61-32 and now goes to the governor for his signature.

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