As our drought and wildfire-filled summer draws to an official close, policy happenings in the beautiful Pacific Northwest are beginning to heat up again. Before more details on that, there’s still news to reflect on from this summer.
Even with major fires like the North Star complex still less than half contained, over 600,000 acres have burned in Washington State. This year, Washington also broke its record for largest fire in state history (the Okanogan Complex, at over 400 square miles). When was that record set? All the way back in 2014, when the Carlton Complex fire burned 379 square miles. It fits the longer trend for wildfires, with more frequent wildfire, larger fires, and more expensive wildfire seasons over the last four decades. Taken with the drought, many have likened this year to a “stress test” for future decades when we expect this to be closer to the norm and less of just a really bad year. Some are already calling this “the new normal”.
As discussions for policies like capping carbon pollution occur, more people are connecting this summer’s hotter weather and wildfire devastation to climate change. If you’re looking for a silver lining that might be it. Let’s hope more people are also connecting weather and wildfire to the choices our elected officials make when it comes to climate change policy.
What are the major climate change policies for Washington and Oregon on the near horizon? We’ve got a few.
In Oregon: sadly, one notable issue is that there is not one but three anti-clean-fuels ballot initiatives registered for 2016 that aim to repeal the Clean Fuels Program (passed and signed in March of this year…and then threatened with repeal in June, and then safe again). They are essentially three version of the same thing, and E2 will be monitoring the initiatives and the opposition efforts. Luckily, it seems that there is overwhelming support (nearly two thirds) for the program to stay in place, according to recent polling.
In the meantime, E2 has been following the implementation of the Clean Fuels Program as the advisory committee convenes, and will make final comments on the program this fall when the final comment period begins.
In Washington: after a less-than-prosperous 2015 legislative session, Governor Inslee announced that he would take matters into his own hands, and that he would be directing the Department of Ecology to begin a rulemaking process to put a cap on carbon emissions in place. Using his executive authority under the Clean Air Act, creating a cap, trade, and invest policy like California’s is not possible. E2 will participate in this rulemaking process and support as robust and a policy as is possible within the letter of the law, when it comes to creating economic benefit and sending a market signal.
E2 has also been deeply engaged in identifying a potential ballot initiative for 2016. As a steering committee member for the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy and participant in deep-dive policy conversations, we’ve been working on putting together a potential 2016 ballot initiative that has a high chance of success – and one that will spur economic development, invest in a clean energy economy, and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In the beginning of October the Alliance will decide whether or not to proceed with such an initiative, so stay tuned.
Another proposal, I-732 (also known as CarbonWA), has been out gathering signatures for an initiative to the legislature. They have until the end of the year to gather the required signatures, and if they make the numbers, this initiative will go to the legislature (where it is likely to not be acted upon). The initiative will then go to voters in 2016. This proposal is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Because evidence of significant public support is of high importance to E2 when deciding what efforts to engage in and devote resources to, E2 is not supporting this campaign at this time, based on polling results from earlier this year showing less than 40% of voters support the proposal.
We also understand that there is a diversity of opinions on the best ways to deal with carbon pollution and how it can be taxed or capped, and whether a revenue neutral option is preferred or whether using revenue to invest in clean energy, transportation, and climate change mitigation is the way to go. We welcome all discussion on those topics.
At the end of the day, we know that E2, our members, and allies are still united under a common purpose and that these campaigns and efforts are moving us toward our goal: policies that support a more successful economy as well as a cleaner environment.
Rebecca Deehr is E2's Pacific Northwest Advocate.