Gov. Jay Inslee wants to charge polluters and cut pollution

Expecting “several months of storm and fury” in Olympia, Gov. Jay Inslee is basing the state’s future on a bold proposition: Legislators will choose to tax polluters and pollution to meet Washington’s pressing public education and transportation needs.

The past week has been “All Inslee, All the time” as the governor has rolled out his program each day: The Carbon Pollution Accountability Act is its centerpiece.

“Write this down!” Both sides (Republicans and Democrats) will have to fund revenue for our children,” Inslee said at an unveiling at REI’s flagship Seattle store. “Would you rather tax polluters than voters? Would you rather tax polluters than drivers?”

As to the benefits of reducing pollutants going into the atmosphere, Inslee declared: “We are going to do more than fix potholes; we are going to fix kids’ lungs.”

The Governor’s program goes before a divided Legislature, with a rural Republican leadership running the Washington State Senate.

The state’s past environmental strides have been bipartisan, with Republican Gov. Dan Evans making common cause with Democratic lawmakers in the 1970s, and Democratic Gov. Booth Gardner crafting the Growth Management Act with aid from Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeanette Hayner.

But Republicans have been taking shots at Inslee’s carbon-reduction proposals before he even unveiled them, claiming that governor is scheming to raise gasoline by $1 a gallon.

A relentlessly negative website called Shift Washington, the product of Rob McKenna campaign alumni who’ve never really conceded the 2012 election, cut loose at Inslee in classic partisan boilerplate:

“Jay Inslee already made his desire to reward his millionaire friends at the expense of working families known when he declared his wish to extend a tax loophole for electric vehicles and explore giving solo electric vehicle drivers access to carpool lanes.”

But the American Lung Association applauded Inslee’s proposals. “We need to clean up the burden on air quality from our transportation system with cleaner vehicles and fuels: This will bring us one step closer to a clean-air future for our children,” said Renee Klein, president/CEO for the Pacific West region.

The governor’s proposal creates a program to cut emissions and raise money.

The state would set an annual limit on the total amount of carbon pollution that emitters can release into the air. Major polluters would need to buy “allowances” for the pollutants that they emit. Each year, the amount of available allowances will go down, requiring that pollution is reduced.

The schedule will, Inslee argued, give polluting industries time and choices about whether and when to invest in clean-energy technologies, and how to deal with declining allowances.

It will allow emitters to work with each other “instead of some bureaucrats deciding who gets the allowances — I shouldn’t say ‘bureaucrat,’ I should say ‘public servants,'” joked Inslee, a politician prone to hyperbole.

The governor estimated that the allowance system will yield about $1 billion annually, money to be divided among education, transportation and helping the state’s disadvantaged communities.

The Inslee program contains incentives for individuals to stop polluting.

The governor would extending existing incentives, exempting sales tax from the first $60,000 of the purchase price of electric, natural gas, propane and hydrogen vehicles.

Inslee is asking the Department of Ecology to prepare a draft rule on a clean-fuel standard for Washington. The process will involve extensive feedback from legislators and the public. Such a standard would require a transition to cleaner fuels over time, giving the state cleaner air.

Inslee is giving a hard nudge to the state’s private electrical utilities — without naming names — to reduce and eventually eliminate use of coal to generate electricity.

The state’s one coal-burning power plant, at Centralia, is being phased out in a process that will last into the next decade.

However, Puget Sound Energy still gets power from aging, polluting power plants at Colstrip in Montana. The Colstrip 1 and 2 plants, about 100 miles east of Billings, are nearly 40 years old and in need of major pollution abatement.

Washington has become a leader in clean energy, witness the windmill “farms” along Interstate 90 around Ellensburg and the big Stateline wind project on the Washington-Oregon border near Walla Walla. The utility consortium that once launched the ill-fatted WPPSS nuclear program is now into wind energy.

Inslee described Washington residents as a “special tribe” that pioneered commercial jet aviation, helped create the technology economy and now is forging ahead with creative solutions to climate change.

“I do believe it is Washington’s destiny to lead the nation and the world in clean energy,” said Inslee.

The governor was almost Pollyanna-ish, saying, “All of the Republican and Democratic legislators are potential allies in this effort.” He said the era of looking at climate through “ideological lenses” is “past.”

Wishful thinking, perhaps.

As Inslee has unveiled his program for this Washington, incoming GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has defined the agenda he’ll be tabling in Washington, D.C.

The first agenda item is forcing through approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from the Alberta tar sands project — a massive source of air pollution — to the Gulf Coast for export overseas.

The carbon economy remains a major power in American life.


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