The Climate Legislative Work Group (CLEW), a bipartisan task force in Olympia that's supposed to come up with recommendations for meeting Washington state's greenhouse gas emissions goals (get to 1990 levels by 2020; 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035; and 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050) is having trouble lowering its own temperature.

Things heated up yesterday when a pair of dueling press releases from the GOP contingent and one of the Democratic leads on the work group laid out divergent plans: The Republicans want to keep the work group, which was created last year and charged with presenting an evaluation of possible approaches to dealing with climate change to the governor this fall, up and running and doing research.

The group has done research and presented recommendations on December 13 (here are the Democratic and Republican summaries). But they've yet to design or evaluate any potential programs. The Democrats want to get cracking on "Phase Two," Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40, Orcas Island), the Democratic senator on CLEW, says, which involves planning and designing programs.

"Unless we do something we're not doing, we don't get there," Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40, Orcas Island)

Some context: The state is likely to be 9.5 million metric tons off the 2020 goal. 

"Unless we do something we're not doing, we don't get there," Ranker says. The other Democrat on the work group is Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burien). The Republicans are Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42, Ferndale) and Rep. Shelly Short (R-7, Addy). Gov. Jay Inslee is a non-voting member.

The GOP statement from Sen. Ericksen and Rep. Short said CLEW's work assignment—crunching the data on any proposed solutions—needed to add another year. In their press release, Sen. Ericksen, also chair of the senate's environment committee, said: “It is vital that legislators receive accurate information about the economic costs and the potential environmental benefits surrounding any carbon-reduction efforts."

Some of the things in the mix: a carbon tax, a cap and trade system, expanding hydro capacity, investing in nuclear power, and foregoing "coal-by-wire"—transmitting coal-generated electricty from out of state. (The legislature passed a historic bill back in 2011 phasing out the state's last existing coal-powered plant.)

Ericksen, who hyped the hydro option and the nuclear power option to me while noting, "I don't necessarily support cap and trade," said in his statement:

Ericksen, who hyped the hydro option and the nuclear power option while noting, "I don't necessarily support cap and trade," said in his statement: “The first year of the CLEW process highlighted just how little is known about how a regional or state-only cap-and-trade or carbon tax would impact our state."

“The first year of the CLEW process highlighted just how little is known about how a regional or state-only cap-and-trade or carbon tax would impact our state. We also do not have solid data on the potential positive economic impacts that could come from a focus on replacing carbon fuels with nuclear energy, increased hydro power or making conservation a priority. I think that some on the panel were surprised at the lack of information currently available and the massive negative impacts that cap-and-trade plans would have on Washington’s manufacturing jobs. We need more information and the CLEW process is a legislatively-created tool to get that information.”

Sen. Ranker, who says climate change, which he blames for jeopardizing Washington's forests, oceans, and mountain snowcaps, turns Ericksen's line on its head, saying the environmental damage is upending the state's local industries. "This is not just about saving the environment. It's about not losing jobs."

Ranker's press release, which came second in the volley (he says he got a text from Ericksen the previous night alerting him that the Republicans thought the CLEW process should continue, but was caught off guard by the press release which he disparaged as "negotiating in the media"), was brief:

“I was surprised to see the press release from the Republicans on the CLEW committee, especially considering all sides were still talking and weighing options. While I’m disappointed, I’m also optimistic that Gov. Inslee, Rep. Fitzgibbon and I can continue to work on solutions to this very serious issue that impacts every person in our state and planet. Doing nothing is the only option not on the table.”

Ericksen tells PubliCola Ranker misunderstands him, and he's all for getting going on designing  and planning potential options such as cap and trade for study, but wants the CLEW, as the legislative player in the process, to actively participate. He worried that the plans could be the sole product of Gov. Inslee's "cherry-pick[ed]" consultants, pushing the bipartisan approach out of the process.

The GOP press release alluded to these concerns about bias. In the statement, Rep. Short said: “We believe the process set in place by CLEW represents a balanced approach to legislative and executive involvement that can lead to common-sense solutions down the road that protect our economy for decades to come. Any ‘go-it-alone’ approach by the governor or his office alienates the legislative branch and the hundreds of thousands of citizens we represent.”

The legislation that created the CLEW last year spelled out guidelines for the consultant—who is charged with evaluating plans to reduce carbon emmissions—including safeguards against a partisan pick.

The consultant or consultants must demonstrate that they can perform nonpartisan, objective,and independent work. The work group may not select a consultant or consultants whose employer has retained a lobbyist in Washington state during the immediately preceding five years. Nor may the work group select a consultant or consultants whose employer or who has personally contributed to the campaign of a statewide elected official, legislative candidate, or any other political committee in the previous four years. No less than four of the work group's five members must support the retention of a consultant or consultants.

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