An evidence-based approach to improving the environment

I welcome the new, evidence-based approach to environmental improvement contained in Senate Bill 5802, which was approved by the Senate with bipartisan support yesterday. The bill would create a work group to analyze the state’s environment profile and energy consumption. The group would utilize cost-benefit analysis in suggesting a future course of action for environmental improvement.

We all want to improve our environment, but we need to make sure that the investments we’re making are actually moving the needle and making a difference. As I’ve said several times this year, we need to take the ‘religion out of carbon’ and I welcome this new approach of relying on cost-benefit analysis – rather than what’s politically popular – to move our state forward.

The best examples of this evidence-based approach can be found in the text of the bill the Senate passed. In determining a course of action, the work group would be charged with taking into consideration:

  • The relative impact upon different sectors of the jurisdiction’s economy, including power rates, agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation fuel costs;
  • The impacts upon household consumption and spending, including fuel, food, and housing costs, and program measures to mitigate impacts to low-income populations;
  • The overall effect on global greenhouse gas levels if Washington meets its greenhouse gas emissions targets.
  • The recommendations must be prioritized to ensure the greatest amount of environmental benefit for each dollar spent and based on measures of environmental effectiveness, including consideration of current best science, the effectiveness of the program and policies in terms of costs, benefits, and results, and how best to administer the program and policies. The work group recommendations must include a timeline for actions and funding needed to implement the recommendations. In order for a recommendation to be included in the report, it must be supported by a majority of the work group’s voting members. Minority reports or comments must be included in the report.

It’s important that we focus on what works, rather than what’s popular or trendy in attempting to improve the environment. The reason is that sometimes what’s popular isn’t effective. As evidence, look no further than this recent Wall Street Journal article by Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.

In it, Lomborg points out that many electric cars are recharged using coal-based power, which creates sizeable carbon emissions. Even if the owner recharges the car through renewable sources of energy, such as hydropower, at 90,000 miles there’s only a 24 percent reduction in carbon output from an electric car over its gasoline-powered counterpart. At that point, the difference in emissions between the two vehicles could be negated by purchasing $44 worth of carbon offsets.

I think many people would be shocked to know what a marginal environmental improvement electric cars make over their gas-powered counterparts. This is a great example of the need for evidence-based action, and I’m encouraged by the new direction our state is taking.