Inslee’s carbon price plan draws a divided crowd at hearing 

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2015

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) broad climate bill to make polluters pay for carbon emissions sparked heated debate yesterday during state lawmakers’ first public hearing on it, which quickly filled the legislative chamber and spilled out into several overflow rooms.

More than three dozen speakers testified before the House Environment Committee, while outside the chamber, groups demonstrated both in support of and opposition to H.B. 1314.

Environmentalists, low-income advocacy groups and a number of unions have banded together behind the bill, which would place a declining cap on emissions and require the state’s largest polluters to purchase permits at auction.

Some of the state’s most influential business groups remain opposed and are running a countercampaign against the bill through a coalition called the Washington Climate Collaborative.

The divide is partisan, as well, with Democrats accounting for all 37 of the bill’s sponsors in the House.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D), the bill’s primary sponsor and chairman of the House Environment Committee, said his state’s relatively modest contribution to the U.S. carbon footprint “does not absolve us of the responsibility for our contribution to this problem. We are accountable for our pollution.”

The proposal would cover roughly 130 of the state’s biggest-emitting facilities, owned by around 70 entities, including fuel distributors, manufacturers and some large institutions, including the University of Washington.

Rep. Liz Pike (R) noted that three of those facilities are top employers in her district, and that they might reconsider their investments if the costs of doing business rise.

“When companies start leaving the state, what is the threshold of jobs lost for this to no longer be a successful program?” she asked.

A steady chorus of business leaders took the podium to echo Pike’s concerns, citing competitive pressure from foreign businesses that already enjoy lower operating and labor costs.

“Energy has played a key role in growing our economy and serving our manufacturers across the state,” said Kris Johnson, president of the Association of Washington Business. “At the end of the day, this becomes a competitiveness issue.”

But so far, at least, Inslee’s proposal enjoys majority support in the state and has a sizable coalition of green, labor and social justice groups to back it.

“As the economy comes back to life, it faces two great threats to broadly shared prosperity: extreme inequity and disruptive climate change,” testified Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, which represents more than 400,000 employees. “We can tackle both by tackling them together. The transition to a clean-energy-based economy can create more family-wage union jobs and shared prosperity.”

The bill faces a divided Legislature after Republicans retained control of the Senate in the midterm elections. Inslee has said in the past that he believes he can win bipartisan support through the promise of revenue raised by the program. Washington currently faces severe budget shortfalls in education and transportation spending.