Tuesday, July 28, 2015

WA Gov. Inslee orders carbon regulation - Credit to youth lawsuit?

This is an update to a story posted earlier today. 

Washington Governor Jay Inslee today ordered the state Department of Ecology to place a regulatory cap on carbon emissions.  While a successful youth lawsuit to spur such an action is not being given direct credit, it is hard not to see the connection. 

“Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state,” Inslee said. “Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn’t acted to protect them.”

Inslee is claiming regulatory authority under the state Clean Air Act. The rulemaking is expected to take a year. The action will provide Inslee a potential opportunity go to the U.N. Paris climate summit in December with a climate initiative of global significance.

In August 2014 a group of eight youths petitioned the state Department of Ecology to start a rulemaking for carbon caps much as the governor ordered today. Ecology rejected the youth petition.  Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, they took Ecology to court. On June 23 in a decision unprecedented in the United States, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to reconsider the petition based on scientific testimony and their own statements. 

Of critical importance, the youth petition affirmed that existing laws provide Ecology with all the authority it needs to regulate carbon emissions. The governor today took the same position.

But the governor’s press spokeperson, David Postman said, “As far as I know, this effort is not related to the lawsuit against Ecology.”

Nonetheless it hard to believe that these developments are not connected.  Ecology is under the gun from Hill's court order.  Andrea Rodgers, lead attorney in their case, has a similar view. “The only ones who asked the governor to do this are those kids. They deserve the credit.”

The eight are Zoe and Stella Foster, Ajia and Adonis Piper, Wren Wagenbach, Lara Fain, Garbriel Mandell and Jenny Zhu.

The youth petition asked the for carbon emissions reductions of four percent a year beginning immediately. This is based on science developed by world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who this past week released a new study indicating sea level could rise 10 feet in 50 years if deep emissions reductions do not begin immediately.

What is not clear from the governor’s announcement is how far his order will go to implement science-based goals. The announcement says, “The regulatory cap on carbon emissions would force a significant reduction in air pollution and will be the centerpiece of Inslee’s strategy to make sure the state meets its statutory emission limits set by the Legislature in 2008.” State carbon emission limits are substantially higher than the level required by science.  

“We’re going to make sure that whatever Ecology does is based on the best available science,” Rodgers said.  “When we meet with Ecology tomorrow we are going to ask that they heed Judge Hill’s order.”

In her order Hill quoted Ecology’s own December 2014 report to the governor.

“Climate change is not a far off risk.  It is happening now globally and the impacts are worse than previously predicted, and are forecast to worsen . . . If we delay action by even a few years, the rate of reduction needed to stabilize the global climate would be beyond anything achieved historically and would be more costly.” 

Ecology itself admitted the 2008 goals fall short: “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.”

Noted Hill, “Despite this urgent call to action, based on science it does not dispute, Ecology’s recommendation in (the December 2014) report is, ‘that no changes be made to the state’s statutory emission limits at this time.’”

Judge Hill wasn’t buying that.  She told Ecology to take its own report and scientific testimony into account and reconsider the youth petition. That is what the agency will have to do.  

The regulatory cap will not in itself set a carbon price as would have the governor’s failed carbon bill.  But that could come by future legislative action or a ballot measure. A carbon tax is the center of Initiative 732 being forwarded by Carbon Washington for the November 2016 ballot. 

“This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action,” Inslee said. “But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps.”

Inslee also announced he would not implement a Clean Fuels Standard because it would have triggered a “poison pill” taking around $2 billion away from transportation alternatives including transit, bicycling and walking.

"In talking about the terrible choice the Senate imposed on the people of Washington – clean air or buses and safe sidewalks – I heard broad agreement that we need both clean transportation and clean air,” Inslee said. “I appreciate the commitment I heard from many to work with me to ensure our state meets its statutory carbon reduction limits.”

(I previously wrote that my gut told me Inslee would swallow the “poison pill.”  In this case I’m glad my gut was wrong.  Clean fuels should not be played against needed alternatives.)

Inslee’s announcement today signifies a tremendous climate victory.  Whether or not they are given direct credit I believe can thank eight young people and the adults who backed them up.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

WA Gov. Inslee considers swallowing “poison pill" to implement low-carbon fuels

Update: The governor opted against this, he announced July 28.  

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is considering swallowing the “poison pill” which could divert funding from non-auto alternatives into highway construction in order to begin implementing a low carbon fuel standard. 

“The governor did have meetings over the past couple of days to talk about this with stakeholders,” Inslee press aide David Postman said Saturday afternoon, confirming rumors which have been flying fiercely around Olympia in recent days. “He hasn't made any decision. He is following up on what he said in his sine die press release, and again similarly at the transportation bill signing.”

In that release Inslee said, "I signed this transportation package even though it included the poison pill because it’s important that we move forward on critical investments that provide safety, jobs and traffic relief. This creates a tough decision, and I’ll make it after I review all our options.” 

“That's what he's doing now, reviewing options,” Postman said.

Postman noted that the transportation alternatives money, which comes from licensing and vehicle weight fees, would not automatically shift to highways.

“The poison pill would require multi-modal funds to be transferred to the Connecting Washington account if the administration moved ahead with a clean fuel standard. From there, it would have to be reappropriated by the Legislature. It doesn't automatically go to road projects.”

Inslee and executive staff believe the governor has executive power to order than the carbon-intensity of fuels is reduced by 10% over the coming decade.  Any implementation would be challenged in court by the oil industry. 

If Inslee goes ahead and begins implementation despite the “poison pill” inserted in the transportation package by Senate Republicans, it will indicate how much he wants a climate victory.  Inslee has long been an outspoken climate advocate.  He was one of the prime climate leaders in Congress.  After losing his effort to institute a carbon cap and price in the legislative session, he may decide he does not want his first term to pass without a climate gain.

Implementation in the face of “poison pill” would also be a way to poke a stick in the eye of the Western States Petroleum Association, which defeated his carbon bill and pushed the “poison pill.”

Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost.  A state government contact confirmed that staff is running numbers. And since this is only the first years of a transportation package that runs through 2031, the governor may also calculate that these losses could be reversed in future legislative sessions.  The Democrats hope to re-capture the State Senate with presidential year turnout in 2016.

I’ve known Inslee for a number of years.  Based on that my gut says he is preparing to pull the trigger to implement Clean Fuels. 

(p.s. Others I've talked to are skeptical.  So I've made some bets. I have several beers riding on the outcome.)  

(p.p.s. My gut was wrong. I will owe some beers.  See here.  It's just as well. Clean fuels vs. transportation alternatives is a terrible choice.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Throwing climate under the bulldozer - WA state's new transpo package

When Jay Inslee was elected governor of Washington in November 2012, euphoria swept over the state’s environmental and climate community.  Finally a governor who would make climate one of his priority issues!

In the wake of the 2015 legislative session the mood could not be more different.  Not only was the governor’s carbon cap-and-trade bill turned back, failing to gain even a vote in the Democrat-controlled House let alone the Republican Senate – A transportation package with a "poison pill" stripping out funding for alternative to the automobile if a low-carbon fuel standard is implemented also empowered one of the largest highway building binges in state history. 

Road construction and paying off the bonds to fund it swallowed $11.6 billion of a $16.1 billion package.  A state challenged to maintain its existing roads opted for massive growth of new highways while allocating only $1.3 billion to maintenance and a paltry $657 million to alternatives such as bike lanes, van pools and transit over the 15-year life of the package.  The big goodie for environmentally minded legislators was the option for Puget Sound voters to approve a $15 billion expansion of Sound Transit light rail on the November 2016 ballot.  Even with the eventual carbon reduction benefits of light rail, once the embedded energy and carbon entailed in construction is paid off, all those new roads will swamp state carbon reduction goals. Highways induce driving, as this study from Victoria Transportation Policy Institute demonstrates.
Thus not only were Inslee, described as the “greenest governor,” and his environmental community supporters turned back from making any climate gains – They put their political power behind a measure that will actually increase state carbon emissions. 

Through the session Inslee and environmentalists worked against a transportation package “poison pill” cleverly devised by Senate Republicans and their oil industry allies.  Money for transit and alternatives to the auto could be diverted to highways if Inslee used his executive power to implement a standard calling for a 10% reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels.  (Highway use would have to be approved by the legislature.) California has such a standard and one is going into effect in Oregon.  (A legislative attempt to turn the Oregon standard back was defeated in a mirror image to Washington.  Legislators were willing to forego a gas tax increase and new highway construction to preserve the standard.)
But ultimately, the draw of an 11.7-cent gas tax increase conceded by the Republicans, new road construction favored by business, labor and ports, and Sound Transit funding, caused Inslee to back down.
“I oppose (the ‘poison pill’) and have worked hard to find a better alternative,” Inslee said. “But legislators tell me it is essential to passing the $15 billion multimodal transportation package and authorizing an additional $15 billion for Sound Transit light rail expansion. I will sign the bill even with this provision because of the jobs, safety improvements and traffic relief that the investments would provide.”
The environmental community still stood in opposition, but only to the “poison pill,” not to highway expansion.  They were willing to sign off on new roads to gain transit funding.  Emails sent by both Washington Environmental Council and Climate Solutions contained the same language.
“As you might have read, yesterday an agreement on the transportation budget was announced that would allow the ‘poison pill’ to stand—pitting transit funding against a clean fuels standard . . . Let’s be clear: we need more transit funding AND cleaner fuels. Let our leaders know that you don’t agree . . . Let them know that you want to move forward – away from Big Oil’s monopoly over our fuels and transportation options – and that means clean fuels and transit.”
While most of the environmental community backed Inslee and the bill, "poison pill" excepted, the exceptions were Sierra Club, WASHPIRG, 350 Seattle and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.  They formed a coalition against the bill even before Inslee’s cave-in on “poison pill.”
350 Seattle sent this message to its members. (Full disclosure – I sit on the 350 Seattle governing Hub.)

“The transportation package now moving though the Legislature would commit us to a future based on a dirty, climate-devastating fuels while squandering public resources we need to build a post-oil transportation future

“State lawmakers are saying the transportation package is essential for maintenance and safety, but repair and maintenance are being shortchanged to satisfy corporate interests pushing highway mega-projects.  Legislators are holding transit, walking, and biking funds hostage – threatening to withhold funding for these essential needs unless the highway lobby gets its way.

“We stand at a crossroads.  We can accept a transportation package that locks in global warming, or insist on a clean energy future.”

In the end, the governor, legislators and mainstream environmental groups such as Washington Environmental Council and Climate Solutions went along with the highway lobby and global warming lock-in. 

How did this happen?  I believe it goes to a theory of change that does not envision or work for the deep social and economic transformations needed to truly address the climate crisis.  Instead of building demand for systemic change from the bottom-up, by real community organizing and public education, it works from the top-down.  Elect good politicians.  Preserve access. Work for incremental reforms that at best fall short of the scientific necessities for climate stabilization.  Hope and pray we can eventually gain the political power to do the job that needs to be done.  Meanwhile cut the deals that we must.  Even if the final outcome is irrational and moves us backwards, as has been boldly underscored with the transportation package.

Sure, this session, Washington Democratic Party politicians and closely allied environmental groups can blame the Republicans in the Senate and Big Oil for their climate policy defeats.  And certainly this is the immediate cause.  But the deeper problem is the lack of vision for the depth of actual change that will be required, the lack of courage to put out that vision, and the lack of strength on the ground, the kind of people power rooted in actual local communities that can make the difference in elections and hold politicians’ feet to the fire to support real change after they are elected, Democrat as well as Republican.  This is what has landed us in the sad political shape we find ourselves today.

In the Washington legislative session just ended climate was roadkill, thrown under the road builders’ bulldozers by the governor and Democrat legislators, enabled by their environmental community allies. This should tell us all we need to know about shallow theories of change, and move us to work for something deeper.