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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's Climate Legislation Gets A Hearing

<p>Brenna Davis, director of sustainability at Virginia Mason medical center, speaks at a rally in support of&nbsp;Governor Inslee's climate legislation.&nbsp;</p>

Brenna Davis, director of sustainability at Virginia Mason medical center, speaks at a rally in support of Governor Inslee's climate legislation. 

Gov. Jay Inslee has been pushing for a “polluters pay” carbon reduction plan for the majority of his time in office. Tuesday marked the first time that plan went before the state legislature, when the House Environment Committee held a hearing of HB 1314. The bill, which was drafted by the governor’s office, has 37 sponsors, all Democrats.

It would set a cap on statewide emissions that would be gradually ratcheted down over the coming years. Facilities, fuel suppliers and electricity importers whose annual greenhouse gas emissions exceed 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent would have to buy emissions allowances, or credits, beginning July 1, 2016.

According to language from the bill, proceeds from the auction would go to transportation projects, the state General Fund, housing assistance programs, a sales tax rebate to low-income persons, a business and occupation tax credit for certain energy-intensive industries, and rural economic assistance programs.

"The threats of a changing climate are real, we're already seeing them, and they demand that we act on this issue," said Seattle Democrat Joe Fitzgibbon, chair of the House Environment committee.

Washington emits 100 million tons of greenhouse gases each year, "but that does not absolve us for our responsibility for our contribution to this problem," Fitzgibbon said.

Gary Ash of National Frozen Foods also testified, voicing concerns about added energy and regulatory costs of Inslee's legislation as he noted that his company uses more than 1 million gallons of diesel fuel each year. He

"We are very sensitive to increasing regulatory costs," Ash said. "We strive to meet or exceed Washington's environmental requirements. However today regulatory agencies continue to raise the bar, increasing onerous requirements that are often unreasonable and costly."

The governor’s plan has proven to be a lightning rod, galvanizing the formation of coalitions both in support and opposition.

Tuesday in Olympia two groups held press conferences, facing off on either side of the issue.

The is a new group that is funded mainly by the Association of Washington Business and operated by a Northwest-based PR firm, Quinn Thomas Public Affairs. Quinn Thomas has assembled a coalition of businesses and union members, including agricultural interests and food processors. The group opposes limits on carbon emissions, be it via a cap and trade system, as Inslee has proposed, or a carbon tax.

“We support protecting the environment for future generations,” Daren Konopaski, international vice president and business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302, said in a press release from Quinn Thomas. “But Gov. Inslee's plan is to make Washington families pay more to keep the lights on at home, buy gas for their car, or put food on the table.”

The also launched today in Olympia, representing community organizations, businesses, labor unions and environmental organizations that support Inslee’s legislation.

"This is probably the most important bill I will ever testify on," said Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, which has 400,000 members. "For a century, carbon emissions have been treated by economists as externalities. Climate change truly is an existential issue. It impacts our jobs, environment and health and challenges our sense of common purpose."

A similar bill has been introduced in the state Senate but has not been scheduled for a hearing. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, chair of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, said he will give a full hearing to HB 1314 if it makes it out of the House.

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Ashley Ahearn