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State Republicans out of step with reality, voters on climate change

The cap and trade system bill unlikely to make it out of the state senate

A bill that would institute a cap and trade system to put a price on carbon in WA State was held hostage this month. SB 5283 never left the committee that Senator Doug Ericksen (R) of Bellingham, who receives more money from fossil fuel industries than other elected officials, chairs—the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.

In the house, with Democratic leadership, the proposal fared better. HB 1314 passed out of the House Environment Committee chaired by Joe Fitzgibbon, who, along with vice-chair Strom Peterson, is a sponsor of the bill. On February 12, HB 1314 was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, where chair Ross Hunter and vice-chair Timm Ormsby are also bill sponsors. Maybe this version of Governor Inslee’s cap and trade proposal will get traction, but probably not.

The influence of external pressure on climate science–$$$

One big block to making progress on climate change is the WA State Republican Party. According to the current state platform, short-term economic gains are more important than providing environmental protection, even as Puget Sound acidifies, salmon streams heat up, and asthma rates soar. WA State Republicans don’t accept that climate change is real, contrary to the preponderance of scientific evidence.

Here’s their language of denial. In section 12 of their party platform, WA State Republicans claim that “Climate change occurs naturally and warming from human generated greenhouse gases has yet to be proven. Well-researched peer reviewed papers are being presented proposing other mechanisms that influence the earth’s climate. The ongoing debate should take place without external pressure where scientists are free to present various theses without fear of retribution. At present climate change science does not provide sufficient basis to formulate public policy” (http://www.wsrp.org/resources/party-documents).

The concerns expressed by the WA State Republican party seem ill placed. According to a February 21, 2015 article in the New York Times, not only did scientist Wei-Hock Soon, a leading proponent of the theory that human behavior plays a relatively small role in climate change, feels free to present his thesis, but he also felt free to accept more than $1.2 million from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade. In other words, he freely accepted over a million dollars to present his thesis and apparently, Washington State’s Republican Party has freely accepted his wares. Is this the kind of “debate without external pressure” the party was thinking of when they wrote their platform?

Majority of moderate Republicans think global warming is real

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reported findings in January of this year, based on a synthesis of six nationally representative surveys completed in the last three years, showing most Republicans think climate change is real. According to their research, a solid majority of moderate and liberal Republicans think global warming is happening: 62% of moderates and 68% of liberals. 38% of conservative Republicans think global warming is happening. Even 29% of Tea Party Republicans, representing about 17% of the Republican party overall, think global warming is happening. The majority of Republicans (56%) support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant compared with 70% of all registered voters. Over a third of Tea Party Republicans (36%) support regulating carbon. The WA State Republican party is out of touch in their climate change-denial position and in their unwillingness to try to regulate carbon. They remain in close contact with funders from the fossil fuel industry.

Fessing up to distorted views: Who’s a skeptic now?

In the context of the debates over the Keystone pipeline project, Senator Bernie Sanders proposed a simple, radical idea: own your position. Is climate change real? Sanders proposed the introduction of a “sense of Congress” resolution affirming that climate change is real, caused by burning fossil fuel, and must be addressed. Sheldon Whitehorse (D, Rhode Island) proposed the first of a series of amendments, stating that “climate change is real, and is not a hoax” –98 senators voted yes, with only one no vote. When the wording was amended to say that climate change is real and human activity contributes to it, 15 Republican senators voted yes along with Democrats. A third amendment changed the wording to state that human activity significantly contributes to climate change—and 5 Republican senators voted yes, along with Democrats. From Sanders’ point of view, as well as others, the big breakthrough is that climate change is now on the floor for debate. It’s no longer a given that it’s “cool” to ignore the climate.

Senator Cyrus Habib, a Democrat from Kirkland, made a similar move in our statehouse. After Doug Ericksen killed Governor Inslee’s cap and trade bill on the senate side, he then proposed a bill of his own, SB 5735, to gut the 2006 voter initiative that requires WA utilities to generate 15% of their energy from non-hydro renewable sources. Habib proposed an amendment to Ericksen’s bill, stating that climate change is real, and that the human activity significantly contributes to climate change. The Republicans balked, changed the wording to “human activity may contribute to climate change” and the bill (and the watered down amendment) passed 29-20.

If Cap and Trade fails? Enter Carbon Washington

In spite of the evidence that Republican positions are shifting at a national level, Washington Republicans are not likely to support this year’s cap and trade proposal. So what’s next?

Carbon Washington (http://carbonwa.org) describes itself as the relief pitcher for Governor Inslee and the Democrats’ cap and trade proposal. Should that proposal fail, Carbon Washington is aiming to get a proposal for “an environmental tax reform” on the ballot in November 2016. They are gearing up to collect 300,000 signatures between March and December of this year.

While the proposal put forth by Carbon Washington may change, at the moment it is solidly based on what are described as four pillars:

  • Reduce the state sales tax by one full percentage point
  • Fund the Working Families Rebate to provide up to $1500 a year for 400,000 low-income working households
  • Eliminate the Business and Occupation (B&O) tax for manufacturers
  • Institute a carbon tax of $25 per metric ton of CO2 on fossil fuels consumed in the state of Washington

A local Carbon Washington group is forming to develop a county-wide strategy for raising awareness and gathering signatures. Expect to hear more about these efforts, including opportunities to get involved, next month. Republicans welcome!

Emily Lardner lives in Olympia, where she teaches and writes.

 

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