Gov. Jay Inslee is threatening, in the name of the environment, to impose a costly carbon cap on Washington — really a tax by another name. It wouldn’t make a difference to the global climate, but we can be sure it would choke economic growth in this state, drive up gas prices, make it more expensive for you to heat your home, and create great hardship for seniors and the working poor.
In the Senate this year, we saw the emergence of a different, fresher approach to carbon reduction and clean energy. Rather than enacting a punitive and expensive scheme that would allow regulators to cut special deals with the industries they favor, we would unleash the power of innovation, creating new industries and high-paying jobs in the process.
Washington already is one of the greenest states in the country. We get about 90 percent of our electricity from hydropower, nuclear energy and wind, and that percentage will increase when the state’s only coal plant is shut down. We produce just two-tenths of one percent of the world’s carbon, and that share is falling. Over the next 50 years we will get even greener, as individuals make the choice to replace gas-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles and zero-carbon-emitting energy sources like modern nuclear power become more readily available.
So what should we be doing? We can help speed this technological revolution along, position our state as a global leader, and reap the profits this new clean-energy development will generate. If we don’t do that — we really are putting our heads in the sand.
We started this effort in the Senate this year. We offered a first-of-its-kind proposal to turn the state’s cumbersome and unproductive renewable energy law into a measure promoting clean-energy technology. Currently, the state’s inflexible energy purchasing requirement forces utilities to buy electricity they don’t need, mainly from wind-power developers. The bulk of the money goes out of state. To offset that increase in their cost, utilities will raise electricity bills dramatically, yet carbon emissions will not be reduced.
Our plan allows utilities to comply with this purchasing requirement by investing in programs like conservation, electric-vehicle charging stations and conversion of the state ferry fleet to liquefied natural gas. We don’t limit the options — anything that reduces carbon is fair game. We could reduce Washington’s output by a million tons annually as soon as next year.
We’re also pressing the case for small modular nuclear reactors, one of the most promising base load clean-energy technologies available to us. Considerable work has gone into these next-generation designs, making them safer, smaller and more affordable. Already, several companies in this state are working with this technology, and the current governor, our previous governor, the president and the nation’s secretary of energy say they are in favor.
With these and other ideas, the Senate offers a coherent philosophy of clean-energy promotion without punishment — carrots, not sticks — at no cost to Washington’s economic vitality.
We could be promoting a role for our state in the development of this technology, but we are too often hampered in these efforts by partisan and ideological opposition. This is inexcusable, especially given Washington’s long history in this field and its deep knowledge base. Our state should be leading this revolution, not driving it away to other states.
We all want our kids and our grandkids to swim in the mighty Columbia, kayak in Puget Sound, hike in our beautiful wilderness, breathe clean air and drink potable water. We don’t need to wreck our economy for this to happen. By focusing on those areas that unite us, instead of partisan schemes that divide us, we can both care for our environment and strengthen our economy.
Senators Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, are members of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and also serve on the bipartisan Washington State Joint Select Task Force on Nuclear Energy.