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Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. (Photo via Flickr/Jay Inslee)

A philosophical collision on climate change is inevitable between the two Washingtons.

But how much that collision will affect Washington state is still up in the air.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee wants to make the Northwest a leader in combating climate change. On Jan. 1, he is scheduled to install a controversial cap-and-trade program to trim carbon pollution in the state.

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted in 2012 that global warming is a Chinese hoax. The vice chairman of Trump’s Washington campaign is State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who has been this state’s leading opponent against Inslee’s efforts to combat global warming.

Trump’s election “is bad news to anyone wanting to combat the effects of climate change,” said Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Des Moines and chairman of the House Environment Committee.

Ericksen, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, could not be reached for comment in the past two weeks. In 2015, Ericksen claimed that Inslee wanted to drive gasoline prices up to $4 a gallon to support his efforts to trim carbon emissions and to make biofuels more competitive with petroleum. At that time, Inslee’s office pooh-poohed those charges.

Right now, Washington’s gasoline prices average almost $2.60 a gallon — down about 10 cents from when Ericksen made his charge.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said: “It’s difficult to tell at this time exactly what the president-elect’s plans are, not just on climate but trade, immigration, health care, education, infrastructure and the other big issues. Given Congress’s continued inaction on climate, it remains just as important as before for state and local governments to take the lead, and Gov. Inslee will continue to make sure Washington continues to do just that. We haven’t waited for Congress, and we won’t wait for Trump. We’ll continue working with our delegation on issues like oil train safety, and working with our many subnational partners on climate.”

There is a big political difference between Washington, D.C., and Washington state on climate change. Trump has a Republican-controlled Senate and House to back him up. Meanwhile, Inslee has used his executive powers — similar to outgoing President Obama — to sidestep legislative opposition. With Inslee’s veto power and Democrats controlling the Washington House, the GOP-dominated Senate does not have the same out-and-out power. State Republicans can only fight anti-global-warming attempts at the negotiating table.

In Washington, D.C., Trump put Myron Ebell in charge of the transition team to appoint new leaders to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell has been in charge of the efforts of a libertarian think tank — the Competitive Enterprise Institute — to declare that climate change is not a problem. Trump also wants to repeal President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Act, which calls for major reductions in carbon emissions from power plants.

However, Rep. Fitzgibbon noted that Washington’s hydro-heavy power generation is relatively carbon-free. The state’s only coal-fired power plant — TransAlta at Centralia — is being phased out by 2025 under a 2011 state law.

Washington’s only other carbon emitting power source consists of four coal-fired generators at Colstrip in eastern Montana. Puget Sound Energy and five other corporations co-own those generators. In a settlement with the Sierra Club, the two oldest generators will be shut down by 2022. The other two generators — cable of producing 1,500 megawatts between them — are being left untouched.

Trump’s environmental stance

So far, Trump’s broad statements on climate change have yet to translate into specific plans or personnel actions. His tweets have snickered at the concept of global warming. Trump’s most-famous tweet on the subject was in 2012, saying: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.”

Trump is pro-Big Oil, including owning stock in Phillips 66 And Energy Transfer Partners, which own pieces of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which could ultimately affect the number of oil trains going through Washington state. He also wants to deregulate the oil industry. Washington has five oil refineries.

Trump also wants to exit or at least renegotiate a 2015 United Nations climate pacts agreed to by almost 200 nations in Paris in late 2015. Inslee attended that summit and strongly supported it. The goals of his fledgling cap-and-trade venture in Washington mirrors the global goals.

Reuters reported that the nations promised to try to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. That includes an Obama promise to trim American greenhouse gases by 26 to 28 percent of 2005 levels by 2025, Reuters said.

President-Elect Donald Trump. (IIP Archive Photo by Gage Skidmore).
President-Elect Donald Trump. (IIP Archive Photo by Gage Skidmore).

The incoming Trump administration has not provided a direct clue about how it feels about cap-and-trade, an attempt by Inslee to use market forces to combat global warming. Fitzgibbon has not heard of any Trump rumblings against the cap-and-trade concept. “I’m not aware of any federal mechanism that can block (this state-level venture),” he said.

Meanwhile, the Heartland Institute — a right-leaning think tank in Chicago — has significant influence on Trump’s political team. In 2015, the Heartland Institute published an article by Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center, a Seattle-based free market think tank, that slammed Inslee’s cap-and-trade venture.

Founded in 1984, the Heartland Institute receives a significant amount of its donations from oil companies. In the 1990s, it teamed with a tobacco company in an effort to prove that secondhand smoke is not a health hazard. Today, the Institute is a leading skeptic about global warming.

On Nov. 21, The Seattle Times published an op-ed article by Jay Lehr, science director of the Heartland Institute, that claimed “EPA regulations cost the nation’s economy trillions of dollars each year.” He added that “the science used to support the thousands of new (EPA) regulations is generally without merit. EPA hires pseudo-scientists to support any directive it chooses, continuously stifling the U.S. economy at the behest of radical environmental lobbyists, who largely control the agency.”

His op-ed piece later said: “On Trump’s first day in office, he should appoint a new EPA administrator, steeped in scientific knowledge, who sees the job as that of an adviser, not a super legislator, to advise him on which environmental regulations should be nullified to the benefit of the nation’s environment and its economy.”

Lehr visited Olympia in 2015 at Ericksen’s invitation give a long briefing to the state Senate’s Energy, Environment & Telecommunications Committee. In that briefing, Lehr contended that rising temperatures on Mars, Jupiter and the Neptunian moon Triton show that global warming on Earth is not manmade.

Environmental impacts

For almost three years, Inslee has made combating global warming one of the primary planks of his governorship. The vast majority of scientists accept that carbon emissions contribute to global warming, which has ecological ripple effects.

Near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution — 250 years ago — atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were roughly 280 parts per million. Today, the density of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at about 390 ppm. The increase of CO2 in the air — and sea — is expected to significantly accelerate this century. Meanwhile, Earth’s average temperature has increased by slightly more than two degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution began.

2015 was the warmest global year on record since 1880. Colors indicate temperature anomalies (Photo via Wikipedia).
2015 was the warmest global year on record since 1880. Colors indicate temperature anomalies (NASA Photo via Wikipedia).

In the Cascade Mountains, that translates to less snow accumulating as well as melting earlier in the year, which has hurt Eastern Washington farmers who depend on irrigation.

Global warming also has been linked to rising acidity levels in Northwest waters, which is harming oyster populations in Washington’s Dabob and Willapa bays and in Oregon’s Netarts Bay. The acidity causes shells to crumble faster than the oysters can regenerate them. The problem has cut sharply into the most recent oyster harvests. Scientists have pinpointed a drop in the water’s pH level as the culprit.

Recent studies have that this ocean acidification is accelerating as global warming gasses build up in the atmosphere. The economic component of this phenomenon is potentially devastating for Washington’s economy. The state’s shellfish industry, one of the largest in the world, brings in about $270 million annually and employs roughly 3,200 people, most in rural areas, where jobs are often hard to come by.

Inslee decided this year to use his executive powers and enforce a 2008 state law to force polluting industries to gradually trim their carbon emissions to 25 percent of Washington’s overall 1990 level by 2035, and to 50 percent below by 2050. Led by the Association of Washington Business, a coalition of smokestack and oil industries filed a September lawsuit in Thurston County Superior Court to argue Inslee cannot do this.

Eight GOP state senators — including Ericksen — are the legislature’s top recipients of oil industry campaign contributions. The oil industry — of which Trump is a fan — hates Inslee’s approach.

The controversy is over whether forcing smokestack industries to significantly trim emissions will chase lots of jobs from Washington. The affected industries argue this will happen. Cap-and-trade’s effects on jobs has not been strongly studied, but the few available government observations in California and Quebec indicate that a cap-and-trade program has not significantly affected the employment picture.

How cap-and-trade works

Inslee’s cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions is relatively new since only California and Quebec have carbon programs in place similar to what Washington will have, which is probably why this approach has not been on Trump’s radar. Meanwhile, the Canadian government recently ordered all of its provinces to install some type of carbon emissions capping program.

Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal would work like this: The state’s ecology department has identified 35-40 facilities that generate more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon emissions annually. At least 20 of these sites would have to start participating in the program on Jan. 1, 2017.

Meanwhile, another 15 to 18 “energy-intensive-trade-exposed” facilities have been identified. These include aluminum plants, petroleum importers and others. Sites on this list would be phased in by 2020 because the state has identified major energy needs that translate to extra carbon emissions. The state ecology department said these facilities face disadvantages with out-of-state competitors that don’t have emission caps. The idea is to give these facilities an extra three years to find cost-effective ways to comply.

Because of the state’s concerns about potential competitive disadvantages, several other sites will be allowed to wait beyond 2020 before they will have to begin complying. These include Boeing being allowed to delay until 2035, and the University of Washington and Joint Base Lewis-McChord until 2029.

Each facility — once its carbon-reduction clock begins — would be required to eliminate 5,000 metric tons from its annual emissions every three years. As the maximum allowable amount of emissions for any site drops, slightly smaller facilities will be added every three years. The state expects roughly 70 facilities to be in the program when the maximum annual amount of allowed carbon emissions will be 70,000 metric tons.

If a facility cannot get beneath the state’s emissions cap by physical and engineering means, it would buy allowances from other plants that are beneath their emissions limits in Washington or from a cap-and-trade arrangement already shared among California, Quebec and Ontario, which also starts its program on Jan. 1.

The exact details of how a Washington facility would buy carbon allowances from California, Ontario and Quebec are still being worked out.

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