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Washington governor steps in to rescue climate bill

March 17, 2009 |  2:27 pm


If you want to know how the political winds are going to blow around President Obama's proposal to force nationwide cuts on greenhouse gas emissions, look at Washington state, where Gov. Chris Gregoire is struggling to salvage her climate bill from the ill winds of the economic recession.

The Democratic governor made a rare appearance this morning before the House Committee on Ecology and Parks, urging state lawmakers to try to resuscitate the "climate action" legislation she unveiled in January from the drive-by shooting it suffered last week in the Senate.

Gregoire's attempt to make Washington a leader in implementing the Western Climate Initiative, which calls for slashing regional greenhouse gas emissions by 15% below 2005 levels in the next 12 years, was dealt an eviscerating blow when the Senate axed mandatory emission limits and called instead for two more years of studies. Opponents of the initiative fear that setting limits on carbon emissions will further cripple businesses struggling to stay afloat.

"In these economic times, it just doesn't make sense now to even consider this. I think it's bad for business in this state," Sen. Jerome Delvin, a Republican from the central Washington town of Richland, said in an interview.

Gregoire reminded legislators that Washington state stands to reap substantial benefits if businesses position themselves as front-runners in what may be a national move toward cap-and-trade.
"At the federal level, a greenhouse gas program is coming. If Washington leads, we are at the table shaping the program," she said.

Gregoire is no longer pushing for a full cap-and-trade bill, but still hopes, her staff said, that legislation likely to produce meaningful reductions in carbon gases could emerge this year. Environmental activists who had been glum after the Senate vote took new heart. Some said Gregoire's appearance may have galvanized House Democrats, at least.

"I think she's really elevated the profile for this bill. I think people have now realized just how weak the Senate version of the bill is, and they realized that we do as a state have a lot to lose by not showing leadership," said Jessica Finn Coven, policy specialist for the group Climate Solutions.

"Things like the Northwest self-interest start to kick in, particularly as this on a national level starts to seem more real," added Becky Kelley of the Washington Environmental Council. "Do you really not want to be at the table on this?"

— Kim Murphy

Photo: Emissions like those from this Huntington Beach power plant could be capped, or operate with credits generated by companies that save on greenhouse gases, under cap-and-trade proposals like the one originally proposed by Washington's Gov. Gregoire. Credit: Chris Carlson /Associated Press