Rep. Marko Liias' (D-21, Edmonds) bill to close down the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia drew overflow crowds in Olympia today. On hand: Environmentalists who support the bill, which would close the plant by 2020 and set up a $94 million fund to clean up the plant and pay for community works projects, and busloads of Centralia residents who are spooked by the notion of losing the 278 jobs at the plant and the 400-plus contracting jobs.
Centralia workers bring pro-TransAlta message to Olympia
"That [$94 million fund] won't mean anything to me," said Preston Eidsmoe, a boilermaker from Centralia who does contract work for the plant. "The plant will be closed down," he said, standing outside the house building in the rain with a batch of Centralia folks.
Inside, the hearing quickly broke down into partisan gotchas—rhetorical (and frankly, pretty nasty) jabs from both sides: Republicans who were obviously skeptical of the bill and Democrats who have signed on.
Today's Jolt sizes up these rounds of questionable political eloquence.
Rep. David Taylor (R-15, Moxee) gets the award for angriest line of questioning .
Taylor asked sponsor Liias (who presented his bill to the committee today) and Sierra Club leader Doug Howell (who testified in its favor) a couple of heated non sequiturs.
Given that wildfires in California recently poured greenhouse gas emissions into the environment, Taylor wanted to know, had Liias explored any plans to fight wildfires?
Similarly, Taylor asked Howell if he knew of any other bill in the past that had "singled out a single entity for a statewide problem."
In response to Taylor's mini-tantrum, Jolt gives Liias and Howell the award for sharpest (i.e., most dismissive) rejoinders.
Liias, going to the data, told Taylor flatly that 80 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector come from TransAlta. Liias added that the plant also comprises 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the state—the state's largest single source.
And Howell, director of Sierra Club's Coal Free Washington campaign, told Taylor the bill wasn't about a single company—it was about greenhouse gas emissions and "starting at the top." Kind of comically, but also correctly, he also said there had been legislation like this before—aimed at reducing emissions at TransAlta in 2009. But it failed.
Rep. Shelly Short (R-7, Addy) gets the award for best statement posed as a question.
Short asked Liias a sequence of questions about the $1 per megawatt fee to decommission the plant. Where was it coming from? Who was going to pay for it? And finally: "So it's taxing them to shut down."
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, W. Seattle, Burien), who is co-sponsoring Liias' legislation, gets the award for outright bitchiest question.
Fitzgibbon asked a trio of TransAlta execs (one subbing for a fourth who couldn't make it today because he injured himself playing racquetball) if---given all the testimony about the company's concern for the jobs in the community---they had foreseen the 2006 closure, when the company shut down the mining operation at the plant (today the coal is shipped in), laying off 400 workers.
Yes, TransAlta mining director Bob Nelson said, they had foreseen it, but ...
Fitzgibbon: "And how much notice did you give employees?"
Nelson: "[We told them] the same day."
Finally, Craig Benjamin, spokesman for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, got in the best sound bite of the day.
Spoofing TransAlta's commitment to Washington and Centralia, he said:
"The coal comes from Wyoming. The power goes to California. The profits go to Canada [TransAlta is Canadian]. And the pollution stays here."
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