Gregoire, Sims, state Democrats launch proposals to fight climate-change

By Warren Cornwall and Ralph Thomas

Staff reporter Keith Ervin contributed to this report.

The Seattle Times

OLYMPIA — Less than a week after scientists warned in a United Nations report that global warming is both a new certainty and very likely man-made, Washington politicians today announced a series of initiatives they say will help tackle the problem.

Gov. Christine Gregoire, state Senate Democrats and King County Executive Ron Sims all announced a raft of measures. While they differed in the details, the overall message was the same: climate change is a serious problem that demands attention now.

“The time to deny, deflect and delay is over,” Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, told a roomful of reporters, politicians and environmentalists during a press conference at the Capitol.

In an executive order signed today, Gregoire called for cuts in statewide emissions of climate-warming gases.

She wants emissions shrunk back to 1990 levels by 2020, with further reductions after that. Those targets parallel ones announced in 2005 by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Growing emissions of gases including carbon dioxide, primarily from burning coal, oil and gas, are thought to be trapping more heat in the earth’s atmosphere.

Gregoire’s order also calls for reducing fuel imports to the state 20 percent by 2020 by increasing fuel efficiency and developing in-state alternatives, such as biofuels. And, during that period, it calls for adding nearly 17,000 “clean energy sector jobs” — triple the current level.

Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology, said the administration plans to convene a task force of energy experts and people from various interest groups to develop plans for reaching those targets.

“The governor is dead serious about these goals,” Manning said.

Senate Democrats announced legislation that echoes Gregoire’s goals for cutting greenhouse gases. They are not immediately seeking regulations to make the cuts happen.

But they went further than Gregoire, in calling for restrictions barring Washington utilities from signing long-term contracts for electricity from dirtier power plants, particularly coal-fired plants.

California has already passed similar limits.

Poulsen, D-Seattle, has acknowledged this measure could prove the most controversial.

A number of utilities rely on coal power for some of their electricity, and one, Energy Northwest, wants to build a coal-fired plant near Kalama. That plant could be jeopardized by the proposed limits.

Manning said some businesses and individuals will “feel their ox is being gored in some unfair way” by the changes they will be forced to make in order to meet the new goals.

But he said most utilities and business leaders “recognize that business as usual is not an option.”

Poulsen said the key question for lawmakers, business leaders and consumers is “are we willing to pay a little bit more to get serious about climate change? … I hope that we are.”

Earlier in the day in Seattle, King County Executive Ron Sims, calling global warming “the defining issue for humankind in the 21st century,” called for reducing the region’s climate-disrupting pollution to 20 percent of current levels by 2050.

To gain support for that goal — and develop strategies for reaching it — Sims said he will convene a group of government, business and environmental leaders.

After making his announcement, Sims then traveled to Olympia in a demonstration model of a plug-in electric hybrid car, which can run entirely on electricity for short distances, or switch over to a gasoline engine.

Sims and the Senate Democrats’ both call for increasing state and county purchases of plug-in hybrids.

K.C. Golden, policy director of an Olympia-based non-profit group called Climate Solutions, praised today’s announcments, saying the climate change alarm has been sounding for more than 20 years.

“We have been hitting the snooze button, rolling over and going back to sleep,” he said.

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