Time for compromise on carbon and clean energy

The following message was sent to subscribers of Sen. Doug Ericksen’s email list March 8, 2016. To subscribe to the list, click here.

By Sen. Doug Ericksen

Word count: 573

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Washington often beats itself up on environmental issues, and it shouldn’t. We are the cleanest state in the country when it comes to electricity production. We are innovators in energy and environmental protection, a state where industry coexists with clean air and clean water.

Just imagine: a manufacturer can build a widget in this state with a smaller carbon footprint than anywhere else in the country. If Washington really wanted to do its part for the planet, it would do everything it can to bring manufacturing here – and create thousands of jobs in the process.

Unfortunately, our clean-energy potential is being undermined by policies and proposals that do exactly the opposite. We chase jobs away, while doing nothing the environment.

— The governor plans to impose a “carbon cap”– essentially a cap-and-trade program that will drive up costs for Washington’s biggest manufacturers and raise the price of gasoline and electricity.
— At least one carbon-tax scheme will appear on the ballot this year, possibly more – these also will impose higher direct costs on manufacturers and raise fuel and electricity prices statewide.

These policies get things backwards. If we punish manufacturers by raising the cost of doing business, we don’t make them cleaner. We give them reason to leave. Not even the most ardent activist argues a tiny emissions reduction in this state will affect world climate. But there is a bigger fallacy at work. If a production line moves to another state or goes to China, how does that benefit the environment? And if power is dirtier elsewhere – aren’t we making things worse?

Someone needs to stand up for the working families of Washington. We should not sacrifice their jobs, their communities, and their quality of life for well-intentioned but ultimately foolhardy energy policies.

We can have it all – innovation, job creation, a clean environment and the freedom that comes with affordable energy. We can start with a compromise between the Legislature and the governor’s office.

I am proposing a “Working Families Protection Clause” as part of a bill continuing public tax subsidies for solar power development. We are told these subsidies are important for the expansion of the solar industry — unless we act they will expire in 2020. The package outlined in HB 2346 is worth roughly $150 million. I propose we keep these subsidies, but in return we need an assurance the governor will not turn the energy market upside down. Under amendments adopted by my committee, if the governor attempts to impose carbon regulations without legislative approval, the solar subsidies go away.

I hope the governor will see the wisdom of compromise. His authority to impose a carbon cap has always been dubious – it depends on vague language in a law passed decades ago. Already we can see his plan has created such uncertainty that it may have tipped the scales in a pair of plant closure decisions.

Instead of hobbling our economy, we should play to our strengths.

— We should use our low-carbon advantage as a tool for corporate recruitment – as I suggested in a bill this year creating a Task Force on Washington’s Clean Energy Economy.
— We should look for ways to maintain this state’s technological leadership.
— But first things first, let’s strike a bargain that will do the greatest good for the environment, demonstrate we value manufacturing and the high-paying jobs that come with it, and help Washington continue setting the standard for innovation.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is chair of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.