Apparently Gov. Jay Inslee was feeling a little frustrated. 

Inslee, a longtime, ardent environmentalist (he helped pass a cap and trade bill in the U.S. house back in 2009), started out his term as governor a year-and-a-half ago with some big environmental goals; remember this "Economics of Clean Energy" op/ed Governor-elect Inslee wrote for us back in December 2102?

But his Climate Legislative Work Group (CLEW), which was supposed to come up with policy to reduce carbon emissions, bogged down in partisan differences earlier this year. The Democrats wanted a "cap and market" system to put a limit (and price) on carbon emissions, plus they wanted to phase out coal-powered energy being shipped in from other states. They also wanted the Washington State Department of Transportation to take a more holistic look at transportation planning—that is, to acknowledge that infrastructure isn't just for cars anymore.

“WHEREAS, the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup…concluded that ... Washington will not meet our statutory limits without additional action.”—from Gov. Inslee's executive order

The GOP wasn't into any of that, arguing that it would cost jobs. Instead, they wanted to water down (pun intended) voter-approved I-937 so hydro power could count toward the measure's alternative energy goals. And they wanted to invest more in biofuels and nuclear energy.

Today, citing job creation stats (19,300 new jobs and $3.3 billion in economic growth), Inslee issued a nine-page executive order that includes “whereas” statements like “WHEREAS, the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup…concluded that ... Washington will not meet our statutory limits without additional action.” Not surprisingly, Inslee's order runs full steam ahead with the Democratic agenda. (Inslee himself was on the CLEW.)

First, Inslee’s order creates a task force called the Governor's Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce, which is charged with designing a cap and market program by November of this year.  The taskforce—GCERT?—includes some serious environmentalists such as Vulcan's Ada Healey, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Climate Solutions policy director KC Golden. Also on board: Washington State Labor Council Leader Jeff Johnson, and Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden.

Meanwhile, recognizing that study after study has made a mockery of forecasts that model for increased car use and count on gas tax revenue from increased car use, Inslee’s order goes beyond simply capping carbon and actually tries to disrupt the auto-centric system that causes the largest portion (44 percent) of our greenhouse gas emissions. 

The order states: "The Department shall develop the transportation model to reflect the current local, state, and national trend showing a decrease in driving, and to evaluate how actions will contribute to achieving the state’s enacted limits for greenhouse gas emission reductions

Under the header "Clean Transportation," the 180 is reflected in other noteworthy mandates in Inslee's order both in changing the way we fund transportation—"the plan must explore alternative revenue sources to fund our transportation system, including vehicle-miles-travelled fees, system-wide tolling, demand-management, and trip-reduction strategies"—and in how we prioritize existing funding: "conduct a review of existing state transportation grant programs in order to identify and implement opportunities to increase statewide investments in multimodal transportation." 

"That's a huge recognition that the governor wants to take transportation funding in a different direction," says Rob Johnson, director of Transportation Choices Coalition, a transit advocacy group. Johnson says the shifts show that Inslee "wants the next round of transportation projects that he advances to the legislature to reflect that reality of what we think is happening on the ground [that people are driving less]. And that is something that not many DOTs around the country are considering."

In addition to TCC's Johnson, the Sierra Club's Bill Arthur, who heads up the environmental group's "Beyond Coal" campaign, also applauded Inslee's statement.

"By ending our reliance on out-of-state coal plants, we can help meet our state's climate change goals and give local workers the opportunity for stable, long term employment in Washington's clean energy industry," Arthur said. 

Inslee's order aims to "reduce or eliminate ... the use of electrical power produced from coal," but the order says nothing about the controversial Cherry Point coal train proposal. 

The praise is actually a little surprising coming from the Beyond Coal camp. While Inslee's order does specifically follow the Democratic agenda item to phase out coal-powered electricity transmitted in from other states (Inslee's order says the state will "reduce or eliminate ... the use of electrical power produced from coal"), it simultaneously says nothing about the controversial proposal, currently under consideration, to run coal trains from Montana and Wyoming through Washington, where it will be exported at Cherry Point Terminal outside of Bellingham. The Cherry Point terminal would result in as many 18 coal trains per day traveling through the region, including through Seattle, and the export of nearly 50 million metric tons of coal each year to Asia—resulting in 100 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.   

Sierra Club spokesman Shane Levy told me simply: "The Cherry Point facility is currently undergoing a very thorough review [true], which is something we're very excited about, and we're also very excited about the statements that were made by Governor Inslee today with regards to getting Washington off of coal." (Worth noting, though: Coal makes up just six percent of Washington state's energy profile). 

Inslee spokesman David Postman says the coal trains are "a seperate process, already under stringent review. There is no mention of any specific projects because those are decided by [the state's] Energy Facility Site Environmental Council [and the] Environmental Impact Statement. They aren't germane to an executive order."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group that works for clean air and clean energy, certainly got Inslee's back, issuing this glowing statement today:

The Union of Concerned Scientists applauds Governor Inslee for taking a bold and courageous stand against climate change. Today, Gov. Inslee outlined an ambitious but clearly achievable set of objectives that UCS believes will help make Washington a leader in climate action and low-carbon energy development.

Governor Inslee’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions from transportation makes great sense since it is a major source of carbon emissions in Washington. Also, his plan to reduce reliance on coal will result in cleaner air and less climate disruption.

Governor Inslee's courageous action to address climate change in Washington State should be an example to other U.S. governors.   


Of course, the legislature still remains the stumbling block; transportation funding and carbon caps all need to be approved by the legislature, where the GOP currently controls the senate. 

Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale), a Republican on the CLEW and the chair of the senate environment committee, told PubliCola: "My preference would have been to continue the CLEW process. I don't think Gov. Inslee liked the results he was getting from the CLEW process. He likes the control he has with this process."

Referring to the taskforce process, Sen. Ericksen adds: "My concern is transparency and going behind closed doors with special interest groups who are more concerned about their pocket books and individual issues. You go from having four elected legislators to having special interest group representatives going behind closed doors with the governor to try and put together policy. In Olympia, if you want to get things done, you try to work more collaboratively. I guess in Washington, DC they do it differently."

"If he wants to implement every chapter of his book through executive order that'll have pretty significant economic impacts in Washington."—Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen

Ericksen notes representatives from Puget Sound Energy, Climate Solutions [aforementioned environmentalist KC Golden], and the Washington State Building and Trades Council.

UPDATE: The taskforce meetings will not take place "behind closed doors." Inslee spokesman Postman says: "We opened the first meeting yesterday—and some press sat in on it—and they will all be publicized and open to the public going forward. So it’s just wrong for him [Ericksen] to complain about lack of transparency."

Ericksen reiterated the GOP's focus from last session's CLEW process when the Republicans advocated for R&D, nuclear power, and hydro efficiencies.

"If you're simply going to try and implement a cap and trade program, the reason the governor didn't like the CLEW was that studies showed up to $8,000 per household impact."

[Sen. Ericksen is referring to a prediction for 2030 in just one of the six studies referenced in the CLEW report; another finding said "there is no consensus as to whether cap and trade would increase or decrease personal income;" though most of the findings in the report did find a drop in household income. You can check out the findings on page 37, here.]

"I'm not saying everything the governor wants is bad, we want to work with him on clean energy," Ericksen says, "but if he wants to implement every chapter of his book through executive order that'll have pretty significant economic impacts in Washington." 

In 2007, as a green congressman, then-U.S. Rep. Inslee wrote an environmental tract called Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy. 

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