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Inslee adviser gets frosty reception from carbon tax skeptics

Don Jenkins
Capital Press
Posted 10/9/2014
Original published on
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s policy director outlined the potential benefits of a state carbon tax before a Senate committee, but senators said they were skeptical.
A Senate committee Thursday gave a chilly reception to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s top policy adviser, who outlined the purported benefits of a carbon tax.

At a meeting this week in Pasco, the governor’s policy director, Matt Steuerwalt, briefed the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee on the possible consequences of taxing greenhouse gases.

He said lawmakers can expect a specific proposal in mid-December when Inslee rolls out his two-year budget proposal.

A carbon tax would increase gasoline, diesel, natural gas and electricity prices, but the overall economy needn’t suffer, Steuerwalt said.

Job losses, including in pesticide and fertilizer manufacturing, would be offset by gains elsewhere, especially if lawmakers diverted a substantial portion of the carbon taxes to transportation projects, he said.

Some senators were skeptical.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said rural residents and businesses are especially harmed by anything that drives up gas prices.

“If it affects the price of gas, it affects so many things in our economy,” he said.

In a speech this month to the Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference, Inslee called climate change the “single most important issue of our time.”

He said he would propose to the 2015 Legislature a “market-based program to reduce carbon pollution.”

The Washington Farm Bureau opposes taxing carbon, entering into emission-reduction pacts or adding climate-change rules to existing land-use laws.

In a column written for an upcoming Washington Farm Bureau newsletter, the group’s president, Grant County hay farmer Michael LaPlant, accused Inslee of overheated rhetoric.

LaPlant challenged the governor to show that his climate change policies would lower temperatures and that the benefits would outweigh the costs.

“The Evergreen State’s ag community has legitimate concerns about Inslee’s climate change crusade and his plans to combat it,” LaPlant stated.

In a report last year on climate change’s potential effect on the agriculture, the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group said a diminished snowpack would mean less water to irrigate.

Also, higher temperatures could mean more pests, weeds and plant diseases, the center warned.

Still, the report concluded that agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change is low.

Rising temperatures could mean longer growing seasons and fewer plant-killing frosts. Higher concentrations of carbon could increase productivity for some crops, according to the center.

Most of all, the report observed, farmers and ranchers are used to adapting to changing conditions.

The Legislature in 2008 mandated the state reduce its greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 and another 20 percent by 2035.

Without new policies to encourage alternatives to fossil fuels, the state will fall far short of the mark, Steuerwalt said. In fact, carbon emissions will rise, he said.

Under a “high carbon price” scenario presented by Steuerwalt, emissions would fall to meet the 2008 law. But the tax would increase gas prices by $1.46 a gallon by 2035.

Other slides he showed were intended to show that the tax wouldn’t hold back the economy.

Steuerwalt said lawmakers could allocate carbon taxes to help energy-consuming industries, encourage investment in renewable energy and help low-income residents.

The committee’s chairman, Ferndale Republican Doug Ericksen, said he found the claim that carbon taxes would lead to job growth an “odd statement.”

“What I don’t get is how increasing the price of gasoline is good for the economy,” he said.

Steuerwalt said it would matter a lot how lawmakers spent carbon taxes.

Said Ericksen: “That’s putting a lot of belief and trust in the Legislature.”

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