In Olympia, Senate Democrats Disappoint Environmentalists

By Josh Feit March 10, 2009

Environmental lobbyists are crowded outside the Senate chambers in Olympia this afternoon as the Senate is set to take up two high profile environmental bills.

However, despite the heavy Democratic advantage in the Senate, the mood among the green lobbyists is not celebratory today. I'd describe it as quiet, resigned, and a little bummed.


Environmental lobbyists in Olympia: Green, but blue.

Indeed, both bills are major disappointments for the environmental community. The first one, sponsored by Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-23, Poulsbo, Bainbridge Island) is the "Cap and Trade" bill; or more accurately: What's become of the cap and trade bill. At this point, every environmental lobbyist in Olympia is grousing under their breath about what a joke the bill is because it has no substance.

The initial intent of the bill, a governor's request bill, was to empower the state's Department of Ecology to design a carbon cap and trade system. But after a lobbying blitz by the business community—let's wait to see what the feds do, they cried—there is no cap on emissions. In fact, the new bill is a 15-page write up contemplating a process for coming up with a cap and trade system, without giving the DOE authority to make any rules.

One lobbyist hanging around in the halls outside the chamber, Cliff Traisman, point man for the Washington Environmental Council, was politic: "It would have to change a lot to be a bill we would be excited about."

The second bill, sponsored by Democratic Majority Whip Sen. Chris Marr (D-6, Spokane) and backed by the Sen. Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) will undo I-937—the environmental initiative passed by voters in 2006 that mandates energy companies up the amount of renewable energy sources they use. (PubliCola has been a little obsessed with this one. Some of our earlier reports are here, here, here, and here.)

"We knew stopping the bill in the Senate was not going to be a strategy," Traisman said, acknowledging that Sen. Majority Leader Brown and Sen. Marr are the party leaders. He calmly added that while the environmental community opposes the Senate bill—"we are not comfortable with this draft"—he's ready to "continue negotiations" on the House side.

A House version of the bill was tabled by its sponsor, Rep. John McCoy (D-38, Everett, Marysville) earlier this session when it became clear to McCoy the talks were getting bogged down with amendments that seemed out of synch with I-937.

With an ally like McCoy—who Traisman says "wants to make sure utilities have to meet the standards and doesn't want to undercut the initiative"—he's "hopeful" about the upcoming negotiations in the House. Despite his opposition to the Senate version, "it's moving in the right direction," he says.
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