Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A business-as-usual climate rule for a climate crisis world

Following is my testimony submitted to the Washington State Department of Ecology in response to its draft Clean Air Rule to limit climate pollution.  Comments are due by 5pm this Friday, July 22. They can be filed on line here,or emailed to Please take a moment to ask Ecology for a stronger rule that meets the scientific requirements to restore climate stability.  You can also sign a petition for a stronger rule here.

When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in 2015 ordered the state Department of Ecology to draft a rule limiting greenhouse gas emissions, he set a precedent.  For the first time, a state government moved to cut climate pollution on the authority of existing environmental legislation. 

The groundwork for the rule was the state Clean Air Act, which mandates state government to “(p)reserve, protect and enhance the air quality for current and future generations.”  On this basis, Ecology has drafted a rule that is in a public comment phase ending this week.

Pollution reductions called for under the rule fall substantially far short of what it would take to actually meet the Clean Air Act mandate.  The rule calls for annual 1.7% emissions cuts from large polluters.  It would eventually cover two-thirds of state greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions.  Thus the overall yearly pollution reduction is more like 1%. That assumes that offsets, which polluters can purchase to meet 100% of their obligations, will actually all generate the real emissions reductions that are claimed.  Many are skeptical, and loopholes in the draft rule actually allow one unit of carbon reduction to count for two units in some circumstances.

The actual scientific requirement is closer to an 8% annual ghg cut, and this curve is rapidly growing steeper.  By next year it will be around 9%.  These numbers are based on the target for recovery of climate stability, returning atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 350 parts per million by 2100.  350ppm is where the atmosphere stops trapping solar heat, the basis of global warming.  The longer that CO2 levels are higher than 350ppm – they are now above 400ppm – the more heat the planet will absorb, and the more probable that feedbacks will push global warming beyond human control – feedbacks including loss of natural carbon sinks such as Arctic permafrost.

This is based on science done by leading climatologist James Hansen and his team for a series of lawsuits promoted by Our Children’s Trust.  Youth lawsuits are being brought against a number of state governments, the federal government and other national governments.  They argue, along the same lines as the theory under which Gov. Inslee ordered the climate rulemaking, that existing constitutional and statutory obligations to protect natural resources are sufficient grounds regulate carbon and other ghgs. 

In one of the cases, eight youth have won a court order requiring Washington state to limit climate pollution.  King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill said the state must issue a rule by the end of the year.  Though the state opted to appeal the order, it nonetheless is the legal requirement under which the state is now operating.  

The state claims it might need more time.  But truly, there is no more time for delay.  NASA just reported that the first six months of the year were the hottest on record, 1.3°C warmer than the late 19th century.  That is perilously close to the 1.5°C target set by the recent Paris climate summit to avert the worst consequences of climate disruption.  Even more alarming is the fact this is 0.3°C above any temperature high previously recorded – a phenomenal spike indicating the planet may be moving into a new climate state.  

This chart from NASA illustrates the dramatic 2016 temperature spike.  Never before this year had temperates gone 1 degree Celsius above the late 19th century level.  The first six months of this year, temperatures averaged 1.3 degrees Celsius, an 0.3 degree spike above anything before. 

NASA also reported that Arctic sea ice was at record lows five of the year’s first six months.  During winter, Arctic sea icepack typically peaks at 40% of its early 1980s extent.   That drives growing heat. Ice sends 90% of solar heat back to space, while blue water absorbs 90%.  Global warming is already feeding global warming in the Arctic, with a worldwide impact.

If ever the climate crisis was upon us, it is upon us now.  Yet the world continues to operate as if it was business as usual – As if minor course corrections can possibly avert a collision with the physical realities of an increasingly disrupted climate.  No, they can’t.  This is why Ecology’s draft climate rule is not an adequate response to the Clean Air Act mandate. It is not a climate crisis rule.  It is a business-as-usual rule. 

A fundamental problem is a contradiction in the rulemaking process itself.  When Gov. Inslee ordered the rulemaking, it was done not only on the basis of the Clean Air Act, but also a 2008 law that set ghg limits for the state: 1990 levels by 2020; 25% below 1990 levels by 2035, and 50% below 1990 levels by 2050.  There is wide agreement that these limits are too low, including from Ecology.  In a December 2014 update required by law, the department said (on page 18):  

“Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science. The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks and to align our limits with other jurisdictions that are taking responsibility to address these risks. . . Ecology concludes that Washington’s existing statutory statewide reductions limits under RCW 70.235.020, especially limits for 2035 and 2050, need to be updated through changes to the statute.”

Critically, Judge Hill also found those limits inadequate to meet Clean Air Act requirements. In a November ruling she said, “. . .  the emission standards currently adopted by Ecology do not fulfill the mandate to ‘(p)reserve, protect and enhance the air quality for current and future generations.’”

Ecology is required under law to submit updates in the limits to the Legislature.  In its 2014 report the department recommended waiting until after the Paris summit.   In her most recent ruling in April the Judge ordered Ecology to fulfill this legal mandate. That is also part of the ruling that has been appealed.  At a July 14 public hearing on the rule in Olympia an Ecology representative said the department is exploring an update and hopes to make recommendations by the end of the year. Everyone understands the 2008 limits are inadequate.

Thus, it is clear that to base the rulemaking on both the Clean Air Act and the 2008 limits sets up a contradiction. If Ecology holds within the 2008 limits, it cannot meet the legal requirements of the Clean Air Act to protect the atmosphere for present and future generations. It’s either one or the other.

To say the rule proposed by Ecology even meets the 2008 standard would be a misnomer.  In fact, parallel to its coverage of polluters, the rule would only hit around two-thirds of the 2035 target.  The remaining emissions reductions would have to come from currently uncovered sectors. 

Chart from Our Children's Trust shows how far short the current proposed Washington state climate rule falls compared to the scientific necessities for climate stabilization.  The green line second from the bottom depicts the stabilization pathway.  The red line shows what meeting the state's 2008 carbon limits would accomplish.  The proposed rule does not even reach the 2008 limits, only around two-thirds of them, reflecting its limited coverage of state emissions. 
One reason state officials give for holding the rulemaking within the 2008 limits, making them a ceiling rather than a floor, is because they believe it provides more solid footing to fight off inevitable industry lawsuits than basing the process on the Clean Air Act alone.  They would rather win a 1% annual pollution reduction than lose with a requirement closer to scientific necessities.  But just how solid a groundwork the 2008 law actually provides is open to question.  In 2015 State Sen. Doug Ericksen, the oil industry’s best friend in Olympia, asked the state attorney general his opinion on what the law actually required. 

The AG responded that it places no requirement on the Legislature.  “There is no language in the statute requiring the legislature to create a program to achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions.”  Neither does it provide a legal ground to sue the state if it does not meet the limits.  The law “does not expressly create a cause of action for obtaining a court order requiring that the greenhouse gas emission reductions identified in that statute be enforced.” Nor can anyone collect damages for failure to reach the limits. “There is no language in RCW 70.235.020 that expressly creates a cause of action for damages against the state for a failure to achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions identified in that statute.”

Certainly any lawsuit brought by the oil industry and other interests will cite that AG opinion to undermine the legal authority of the 2008 law in the rulemaking.  They will argue the law is essentially toothless, and have a basis on which to make that case.  The Clean Air Act authority is far more solid, and really meeting its mandate would require much more than the business as usual rule now proposed by Ecology. 

These are legal points, and they are important.  But beyond the legal, technical and bureaucratic framework in which this rule is conceived, another force is at play.  It was evident in the July 14 Ecology hearing when person after person placed the issue in the overriding moral context.  Around 24 people had been fasting the three days before, mostly parents and grandparents, to ask for a rule worthy of our children.  I was one of them.  I concluded my testimony with this:

“The ultimate test of any climate policy is what happens on this planet.  What will the world look like in 44 years when my 19-year-old daughter is my age?  I fear it will be a nightmare world in which civilization is breaking down.  The longer we delay acting in proportion to the crisis, the more likely this catastrophic future becomes.

“I implore you, as people I know are aware of these facts, and as concerned about them as I am, to listen to your heart and enact a rule to save our children’s generation.  It is up to us to act now in proportion to the crisis we face.”

Once again, I make that call to Ecology, and the governor.  This is no longer a business-as-usual world. We need a climate crisis rule for a climate crisis world.  Please give us one.  



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hungry for climate justice: Fasting at the Washington State Capitol

I am sitting at the foot of the north stairs of the Washington State Capitol, outside Gov. Jay Inslee’s office.   I am one of 17 parents and grandparents who are here in the early part of a three-day fast for climate and our children’s future.  We are joined by a number of others fasting at home. 

We share many feelings.  Grief over the many losses our world faces because our parental generations have not honestly addressed the climate crisis.  Deep concern for what we are leaving our children and grandchildren.  Even a measure of hope that our modest act of self-denial can have an impact. 

I am the father of a 19-year-old, and I know the world she will face when she reaches my age in 44 years will be hotter and more turbulent, no matter what we do now.   This is the tough fact we must all face.  By increasing the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere to levels not seen in millions of years, our civilization has set our planet on a disastrous pathway.  Our task now, as parents and grandparents of coming generations, is to steer our world as much off this course as possible.  We must do all we can to leave our kids a world with which they can cope. 

We are here on these days because the Washington Department of Ecology has proposed a rule to limit carbon pollution, and will have a public hearing here in Olympia Thursday night.   It starts at 6 p.m. at The Red Lion Hotel, 2300 Evergreen Park Dr. SW.

Parents and grandparents fasting for climate and our children's future at the Washington State Capitol
The rule is built on a groundbreaking legal theory, that existing environmental protection laws provide a ground on which to regulate carbon pollution.  Inslee last year ordered the rulemaking under the authority of the state Clean Air Act, which mandates that the state “(p)reserve, protect and enhance the air quality for current and future generations.” 

But the draft rule proposed by Ecology doesn’t hit that mark. It’s in the numbers.  The essential goal is to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million by 2100.  That is the point where the atmosphere stops trapping heat, and the climate can begin to recover stability.  Currently, the Earth is accumulating extra solar energy at a mindboggling rate equal to four Hiroshima bombs exploding every second.  To reach that 350ppm goalpost, dramatic and deep carbon pollution reductions are needed now, in the range of 10% annually on a global basis. 

Because Washington state has a cleaner economy, our contribution to reaching the global goal is around 8% annually.  The Ecology Clean Air Rule calls for large polluters which emit two-thirds of Washington carbon emissions to cut at a rate of 1.7% per year, amounting to 1% against the whole state economy.  The effect is even less because the rule does not kick in for some polluters until 2020.  Offset trading can be used to meet 100% of requirements, creating uncertainties about how much carbon will actually be cut.  Piling onto that, the rule’s flawed language allows some offsets to count for double their carbon reductions. 

Clearly, there is a vast gap between what science requires and what the rule offers.  The parents and grandparents out here today are calling on Ecology to strengthen the rule so it actually does what the Clean Air Act requires.  We will all be at the hearing Thursday to make that call, and we encourage others to do the same, or to send in comments to this site by July 22, the cut-off date.

The question is whether Washington, or any state, can achieve such deep and rapid carbon reductions.  This has everything to do with how we are approaching the climate challenge, as people, as governments, as a society. We are still largely treating climate as just another issue on the plate that we can handle in a business as usual context.  Acting as if it is sufficient to alter the course by a few degrees.  That is the context of the Ecology rule.

But it isn’t sufficient.  Any honest appraisal of the science and the escalating impacts now emerging, from spiking temperatures to melting polar ice, can lead to only one conclusion.  We need to very rapidly change the course we are on, or soon a catastrophic level of climate impacts will lock in.  Our children will face a world that stresses their capacity to cope.  Human societies and economies will crack under the load. 

That is why we are committing this unusual act, a three-day climate fast for our children’s future.  It is a small way of breaking free from our own everyday lives, sitting in front of the Capitol, the center of our state government, calling on our governor and state officials to themselves break away from the assumptions of business and politics as usual. It’s just too late for anything else.

We need a stronger climate rule that moves as close to science-based carbon limits as humanly possible, and we need a wide range of policies and initiatives to back it up.  We need a commitment to move to 100% renewable energy in all sectors as fast as we can.  That involves shutting down fossil fueled power plants, electrifying transportation and renovating buildings. This calls for an ambitious climate agenda to rapidly transform our economy, with direct public investments and mandates to drive the process.

Before any of this can happen, we need to change the dialogue, and the context.  We need to move beyond the business as usual assumptions that undergird Ecology’s Clean Air Rule draft, and create a comprehensive state climate recovery effort.  We need to honestly address what we must do to protect our children’s world, the dramatic change in course this requires us to make. 

The parents and grandparents here today are fasting to make this point. We are hungry for climate justice, for our kids and all the youth who must cope with the world we will leave them. Particularly the poor and non-white who will take the hardest hits. Let’s do all we can to give them a fighting chance.     


Thursday, June 23, 2016

The “greenest governor” vs. the climate kids - Running from Hansen’s science?


June 23 is milestone in climate history.  Today in 1988, then NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress human-caused global warming was with us.

Already esteemed as one of the world’s leading climate scientists, Hansen cited the string of record hot years starting to break out in the 1980s.  He told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the probability this was caused by human greenhouse gases was 99%.

The fossil fuel industry knew it too.  ExxonMobil scientists had accurately projected the track of climate disruption.  Its oil industry peers were also well aware. But corporations whose capital assets and profits are totally tied to continued fossil fuel burning instead funded a monumentally evil disinformation campaign to block action.  Today some 400,000 people die annually from heat waves, hunger, disease, storms and other climate disruption-connected impacts. Fossil industry executive hands are soaked in blood.

If political leaders had been listening to Hansen then, we could have avoided a lot of death and destruction.  In fact, they should have been listening earlier, in 1981, when Hansen made temperature projections that have proven remarkably close.  He wrote, "Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage."

It is the 21st century and Hansen’s predictions have materialized. California and the Southwest have suffered long-term drought.  Colorado River dam pools are at record lows.  Sea levels are rising the fastest in 6,000 years.  West Antarctic ice is on death watch.  The Northwest Passage has been opening since 2007, and in 2016, a year when climate disruption has spiked to a new level, Arctic Ocean ice melt is a month ahead of the 2012 record.  An ice-free ocean is seriously possible this year or soon, promoting a deadly climate feedback – white ice that reflects 90% of solar heat back into space replaced by blue water that absorbs 90%.  Global warming is already feeding global warming in the Arctic, threatening to unlock huge land and ocean stores of super-potent global warming gas methane.  Humanity faces the real prospect of global warming beyond its control, short of highly uncertain geoengineering schemes.

Meanwhile, global temperatures are jumping in ways that have scientists shouting out climate emergency.  For 13 months temperatures have not only been exceeding the record – They have been exceeding it by such a wide margin that it is virtually certain, halfway into 2016, that it will be the hottest year on the books. This plays out as drought and extreme heat searing hundreds of millions in India, and an unprecedented three years of coral-killing bleaching, the third ever global coral bleaching.  It has hit almost all of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.


Hansen got it right in 1981, virtually on the back of the envelope.  In 1988 he accurately told us global warming had arrived.  Now, in 2016, he and his team are projecting worldwide havoc.  All of us should be listening. In a video discussion of his new, peer-reviewed paper, “Ice Melt, Sea Level Rise and Superstorms,” Hansen calls out feedbacks between oceans and ice sheets that “raise questions about how soon we lock in points of no return, which lock in consequences that cannot be reversed on any time scale people can care about.” 

Those include multi-meter sea level rise this century, or next at latest, causing the “loss of all coastal cities.”  “Sea level is known to have risen rapidly many times.”  That ice sheet meltwater is apparently already slowing the circulation of tropical water into the North Atlantic – fresh meltwater reduces saltiness and makes water lighter, which stops it from sinking into the depths. This hinders the mechanism that keeps circulation moving.  So currents back up, warm water stays in the south and the north becomes cooler.  That temperature contrast “will drive superstorms stronger than any in modern times.” In past geologic eras they were strong enough to hurl 1,000-ton boulders onto land.  “All hell will break loose in the North Atlantic.” 

“We are in a position of potentially causing irreparable harm to our children, grandchildren and future generations,” concludes the scientist, who now serves as director of Columbia University’s Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program.

But we have not reached the point of no return, Hansen believes.  In an earlier paper he and his team lined out the scientific necessities to avoid this climate havoc.  Hansen developed the science in 2013 as the basis for atmospheric trust cases filed by youth plaintiffs seeking action by governments to protect their future.  The effort led by Eugene, Oregon-based Our Children’s Trust (OCT) has filed cases in a number of states, including Washington, as well as against the federal government in U.S. District Court in Oregon. Hansen and his granddaughter, Sophie, are plaintiffs in the federal case, which two weeks ago won an important decision allowing it to move forward.

The science Hansen et al developed for the litigation is demanding, and complex.  But it boils down to several key points: 
  • The critical goal is to bring down the level of carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas, to 350 parts per million by 2100.  350ppm is where planetary energy balance is restored – The planet is no longer taking in more solar energy than it is sending back to space.  (The level has now reached over 400ppm, spiking recently over 407ppm, and in fact grew at a record pace in 2015.) Staying above 350ppm much longer than 2100 risks radical climate feedbacks.
  • Achieving 350ppm x 2100 requires immediate and large carbon pollution reductions.  If the world had started in 2013, an annual rate of 6% would have been needed.  If we wait until 2020, the figure grows to 15%.  In 2016, the figure is probably around 10%.  Besides pollution reductions, 100 billion tonnes of carbon must be soaked from the atmosphere into plants and soil. 
  • The threshold for dangerous climate warming is sometimes given as 2° Celsius, or the more ambitious 1.5° C limit set at the recent Paris climate summit.  The 350ppm pathway would hold total warming to the peak seen since the last ice age, just a little over 1°C, with a temporary spike this century around 1.2°C. Hansen asserts we should aim at the lower temperature target to reduce the odds for dangerous feedbacks.  Warming of recent months puts us in this range, underscoring the urgent necessity for rapid carbon reductions.

Five of the Washington Our Children's Trust lawsuit plaintiffs with their attorney, Andrea Rodgers.

The Washington OCT case has won a series of court rulings that could eventually force the state onto the Hansen carbon reduction pathway.  But, ironically, the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee, who came into office as the “greenest governor” with stellar credentials as a Congressional climate leader, is trying to overturn the most recent victory through an appeal to a higher court.  In an astounding move guaranteed to provoke intense cognitive dissonance, it’s the “greenest governor” versus the climate kids. 

The kids are the eight youths who last year filed suit against the state Department of Ecology in King County Superior Court.  Foster et al v. Ecology asks the state to protect their generation by implementing carbon limits based on the Hansen science.  That followed an unsuccessful petition to Ecology along the same lines.  Limits enshrined in a 2008 Washington law are far below what science requires – reaching 1990 levels by 2020, reducing 25% below 1990 levels by 2035, and 50% by 2050.  This is the basis of a carbon cap rulemaking ordered by Inslee in July 2015 to give the limits some teeth. 

In her arguments before the court the youths’ attorney, Andrea Rodgers of Western Environmental Law Center, asserted that because carbon pollution endangers air, land, water and natural resources, the state is obligated to regulate carbon under its constitutional and legal responsibilities, and to levels indicated by science. The plaintiffs gained a partially favorable ruling from Judge Hollis Hill in last November. 

“In fact, as Petitioners assert and this court finds, their very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHG’s (greenhouse gases) before doing so becomes too costly and then too late.  The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which the petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”

Judge Hill ruled that the state has an obligation to cap carbon under its Clean Air Act and the Public Trust Doctrine in the Washington Constitution. “In this context, the emission standards currently adopted by Ecology do not fulfill the mandate to ‘(p)reserve, protect and enhance the air quality for current and future generations’ (quoting the Clean Air Act).”

In fact, when Gov. Inslee ordered Ecology to implement a Clean Air Rule to cap carbon in July 2015, he did it on a fundamental premise of the OCT case, that sufficient authority to cap carbon exists under the state Clean Air Act.  He did it on his own executive authority, rather than that of the court ruling though.  That has important implications discussed below. 

The ruling was also a partial victory for Ecology.  Because the department had already undertaken the carbon cap rulemaking, Hill declined to uphold the youth’s original petition to Ecology.


Under pressure from industry and other stakeholders, Ecology withdrew its first rule draft in February.  Rodgers and the kids went back to court.  In April they won a second victory.  Judge Hill ordered Ecology to produce a rule by year’s end, and to recommend science-based greenhouse gas reductions to the 2017 legislature.  Ecology must consult youth plaintiffs on those recommendations, she said.   

“The reason I'm doing this is because this is an urgent situation,” Judge Hill said. “These children can't wait, the polar bears can't wait, the people of Bangladesh can't wait. I don't have jurisdiction over their needs in this matter, but I do have jurisdiction in this court, and for that reason I'm taking this action.”

“For the first time, a U.S. court not only recognized the extraordinary harms young people are facing due to climate change, but ordered an agency to do something about it,” Rodgers said. “Ecology is now court-ordered to issue a rule that fulfills its constitutional and public trust duty to ensure Washington does its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the planet.”

Gov. Inslee himself lauded the decision in a May 10 email to his supporters entitled, “HUGE ruling for our planet.”  Eight courageous kids went to court to compel us adults to take action on climate change. I'm happy to say that they won. These eight kids know that our state can do more to fight climate change -- and I do, too. Their case has been a call for action to no longer ignore our climate and our kids. And now, the court has affirmed that our plan to reduce carbon pollution is the right thing to do, and now is the right time.”

Then, last Thursday, in what would seem a stunning contradiction of those statements, the administration filed an appeal against the victory in the Washington Supreme Court.  The “greenest governor” was going crosswise of the climate kids.

“The governor and Ecology continue to deceive the public by claiming they are doing all they can to protect our children from climate change, but their actions in court prove otherwise,”  Rodgers charged.It is important for the public to know that their leaders have many of the legal tools they need to address climate change, but instead work to avoid being held accountable for protecting the rights of young people.”


In one particular, crucial to understanding this turn of events, Inslee’s email was less than accurate.  The court did not, in fact, affirm “that our plan to reduce carbon pollution is the right thing to do . . . “ Ecology’s second draft Clean Air Rule released on June 1 instead uses the outdated science that Judge Hill ruled did not meet the legal test.  The rule falls short in at least three major ways:
  • It mandates only 1.7% annual carbon reductions.
  • Those are only on a set of large polluters that will represent at most two-thirds of the state’s economy, so the actual yearly statewide carbon reduction is more like one percent. 
  • It allows polluters to meet obligations through a broad set of offsetting schemes, which many analysts find uncertain and leaky. 
“Emission reductions of only 1.7 percent per year are not much different than business as usual,” said Hansen. “They would leave young people with an intolerable burden to somehow suck enormous quantities of CO2 from the air if they are to avoid a climate system running out of control. The state should live up its obligations to young people, reducing emissions 8% per year, which is what the science indicates is needed to stabilize climate.”

“The stark reality is that the leading climate scientists tell us that one percent annual reductions of GHG emissions, which Ecology has proposed, are essentially useless,” Rodgers and fellow OCT attorney Julia Olson wrote. “The glaciers will still melt, the seas will still rise, the oceans will acidify, communities will be relocated, and we and our children will suffer . . . This is simply not a problem that can be handled by half-measures.”

While the governor is enmeshed in a complex politics pulling him many different directions, it is up to the state’s climate advocacy community to stand up for science-based limits.  Two of the state’s leading climate groups did take that position in an Oct. 29, 2015 letter to Ecology.

“The Washington State Clean Air Act is a health-based statute that directs Ecology to set standards on air pollution to protect the health and welfare of the state,” wrote Climate Solutions and the Washington Environmental Council (WEC).  “While the legislature established statewide emissions limits in 2008, these limits should be a floor for climate action, not a ceiling preventing the state from responding to the critical threats that global warming poses to public health and the environment. 

“The best available science  . . . clearly indicates that emissions in developed world economies need to drop more steeply than the 2008 law established.  This would require Washington State to achieve at least an 80% reduction from 1990 levels by mid-century, or a 4% annual reduction in overall CO2 emissions to achieve the 2050 target.”


In calling for 4% the groups endorsed the original science developed for the Washington OCT case. The state has slightly less challenging targets than the global numbers because Washington carbon emissions have peaked. If reductions had started in 2013 or soon after, 4% would be the number. The 8% figure cited by Hansen comes from a current scientific review being done by his team. This shows how rapidly the challenge is moving beyond control, and why Washington state and Inslee need to rapidly step up to the plate for science-based carbon reductions.

So far Climate Solutions and WEC have not reflected this urgency in their communications strategies.  Even though they have supported science-based limits in their comments to Ecology, this position has not made it into their public messaging. An April 11 action alert from WEC called on supporters to make comments to Ecology on the rule, and specified a number of needed improvements for which to ask.  But the list left science-based limits off the table.  

The need for science-based limits was also absent from comments by leaders of Climate Solutions, WEC, Sierra Club and other environmental groups in statements lauding the June 1 re-release of the rule.  Comments were more in the tone of Climate Solutions Washington Director Vlad Gutman, who said it took “ . . . steps in the right direction.”  WEC Climate and Clean Energy Program Director Sasha Pollack called it “an important step forward.”  The post carried a number of calls for policy improvements, but again did not include science-based limits.

I can only hope that the groups will foreground the science-based limits message when they encourage public comment at upcoming July hearings.  This is an issue of utterly critical importance. The state’s most prominent climate advocacy groups need to bring their public weight to bear on it. Public comment opportunities are here. The big westside public hearing is in Olympia Thursday, July 14, 6 p.m., at The Red Lion Hotel, 2300 Evergreen Park Drive SW.

And while the groups have also enthusiastically praised the youths’ victory in the Washington OCT suit, as of this writing they have not issued any public comment on the Inslee Administration appeal of the case. Admittedly the groups are in a tough spot.  They have been among Inslee’s strongest supporters.  But now is time for them to push harder, and publicly, using all their resources, for science-based limits.  They should be calling on the governor to withdraw the appeal and conduct the rulemaking under the authority of Judge Hill’s order.


Ecology is an agency under Inslee’s executive control.  He could have instructed Director Maia Bellon to accept Judge Hill’s order, and write the carbon rule under the color of this order.  But instead Inslee chose to move the rulemaking forward under his own executive authority.  That makes it far less secure.  A Governor Bryant, perish the thought, could as easily use his executive authority to revoke the order. That would not be so easy with a rulemaking under the color of a court mandate

The administration has now decided to contest Judge Hill’s order to produce a rule by year’s end.  This is another step to deny her rulings, and the youth on whose behalf they were made, any legal standing in the process.  Ecology spokeperson Camille St. Onge claimed this was about the timeline. “One of the things that’s important in a rule-making process is that we need a rule to be strong and durable, and the public needs an opportunity to influence the outcome,” she told The Stranger. “A court-ordered deadline would hamper that.”

But St. Onge also “said that the state still expects the rule to be finalized by the end of the summer—a schedule that doesn’t conflict with the court-ordered deadline,” wrote reporter Sydney Brownstone. “Nevertheless, the state is appealing the judge’s ruling in the event that they need to change the plan.”

It seems quite an assertion of bureaucratic prerogatives to move against a groundbreaking legal precedent for climate protection, and a precedent won by those most affected, youth, on the theoretical possibility that more time might be needed.  In response to Judge Hill's ruling, and her statement, "These children can't wait," Ecology is saying, wait a little longer.  It seems that if the need for an extension actually arose, a motion to Judge Hill would be a better course. The judge has granted extensions to Ecology in the proceedings, and has proven she too wants a strong and durable rule.  

What really seems at play is a desire on the part of the state to operate on its own authority, rather than the legal mandates under the rulings.  One can only surmise this is because the implications of the rulings lead to Public Trust responsibilities. And those ultimately lead to the science-based carbon reduction goals specified under the Hansen science.  At 4% a year, now rising to around 8% or even greater, that might seem impossibly greater than any one state can accomplish. 

Indeed, meeting carbon reduction goals that do not leave the world a wreck for our children and theirs requires far more broad reaching efforts than most political leaders or climate groups are yet addressing. We need a rapid shift to 100% renewable energy in all sectors, with deep transformations in transportation and buildings. We need transformation of forestry and agriculture. This is the context for achieving deep carbon reductions.  It involves a complex set of public initiatives that include carbon caps and prices but go beyond them, such as power grid modernization and vehicle electrification.

To accomplish needed transformations quickly enough to avert climate meltdown, we need a World War II-scale mobilization of resources at all levels, from state to nation to world.  Something this huge will require immense political will.  The only way to build this will is to bring it to the foreground of discussion and advocacy. That new World War II message needs to be taken up by political leaders who claim a climate commitment, and all groups working in the climate arena. At this point, just about the only major U.S. group focusing the message is The Climate Mobilization.  Everyone should study TCM’s approach.

DEAR JAY . . .

Now let me address some words to Jay Inslee personally. I have known you for more than 15 years, maybe better than any politician in my life. I know you have more understanding of the climate challenge than probably at least 95% of politicians.  We have traded clean energy economy ideas.  You even told me how you challenged the President of the United States to a basketball game, and how Obama played.  In being critical of you, I have heard back from people close to you how you are doing the best you can in difficult situations.  On a human level, I confess a level of personal pain in all of this.  Though others might, I do not doubt your sincerity. But your policy directions have left me with many questions, particularly about the level of advice you are receiving.

Consider the political optics of the “greenest governor” going against the climate kids. They are simply horrible.  They undermine your credibility with a green constituency that you need for reelection.   Among the grassroots progressive and environmental constituencies I touch nowadays, there is a lot of skepticism about your “greenest governor” credentials.  They have been undermined by your support for gigantic methanol refineries in Tacoma and Kalama fed by fracked natural gas, with questionable carbon reductions.  And by allowing oil train terminals to go in three refineries without environmental review, before a citizen uprising gained such review for the proposed Shell Anacortes refinery terminal.  Your support of a massive $9 billion highway construction package did not help much either.

And you have not yet called for a moratorium on oil trains running through Washington. In sharp contrast Oregon Gov. Kate Brown just made that call following the fiery oil train derailment in Mosier on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge June 3.  If anything, Washington has more to lose.  Explosive oil trains run some distance from downtown Portland, but in a tunnel under the Seattle downtown core.  An explosion in the city would be utterly catastrophic. 

In an email sent this week you acknowledged that the Mosier explosion was “yet another reminder of the dangers that oil trains pose to our communities. We need stronger protections for our residents in Washington state.”  The Take Action box has the headline, “Get dangerous oil trains off our tracks.”  But the button goes to a petition that only calls for “stronger safety standards.”  You have thus bought into the argument that there is such a thing as a safe oil train.  In fact, no level of standards could make the inherently dangerous animal that is the unit oil train safe. The Oregon crash was the result of a broken bolt that might well have been invisible to inspectors, rendering any train improvements moot.

While many people in the Washington climate community with whom I have worked in the past will be inside the Washington State Convention Center tomorrow night for your fundraiser with President Obama, I will be on the outside with members of the climate grassroots.  We will be demanding you ask for an oil train moratorium, as well as that you order the youth lawsuit appeal dropped.  In other words, we really want you to live up to your “greenest governor” title. 

I really wish I could go back to the old days when I was one of your unabashed supporters.  But your positions on carbon-intensive fossil and transport infrastructure have undermined that. And going crosswise of the climate kids, the real climate leaders of Washington state, has left me deeply disappointed.  To really look our kids in the face we need to stand up for their world.  That means accepting science-based carbon limits, using every legal pathway at our disposal, and pushing for all the policies needed to reach them. 

Just going in the right direction is not enough. Our test will be in what ultimately happens to our children’s world.  That is the test you face now, as Governor of the State of Washington.  Please step up now as a climate leader, stand with the kids, and put the state on the pathway to 350ppm. We’re just one state, but we need to pick up our share of the load.  Help mobilize us to do it. The science and our children’s world demand nothing less.