Inslee travels abroad to bolster his climate profile

Source: Benjamin Storrow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is going global.

The Evergreen State’s Democratic chief executive, fresh off participating in the U.N. climate talks, was in British Columbia last week, where he spoke to provincial lawmakers about boosting regional climate change efforts.

“Today, I am here in the hopes that, together, we will usher in a new era — one that moves past polluting fossil fuels and embraces a clean-energy future,” Inslee said in a speech before the Legislative Assembly in Victoria.

Inslee touted the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a collection of Western states seeking to boost regional climate cooperation. Such efforts, he said, won’t be stalled by opposition in Washington, D.C.

“It cannot stop us from moving forward to defeat climate change. It cannot stop us from establishing global and subnational coalitions; it cannot stop individual states from capping carbon; and it cannot stop our businesses from inventing new and creative solutions.”

Inslee, one of America’s leading climate hawks, finds himself at a crossroads. The governor is newly emboldened after Democrats took control of the Washington state Senate following a special election earlier this month.

But Inslee must navigate the internal divisions of state Democrats if he is to enact his climate agenda.

Democrats maintain narrow majorities in both the Washington House and Senate, and legislative leaders may be hesitant to take on proposals that threaten control of their chambers. And Evergreen State climate hawks have been divided over what carbon reduction strategy to pursue. Infighting among greens helped doom a ballot measure calling for a carbon tax last year.

There is also a matter of timing. Next year is a short legislative session.

“Anybody who knows how state legislative sessions work, knows to be cautious,” said Noah Long, legal director for Western energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Broader regional cooperation is complicated by differing approaches to carbon regulation. British Columbia employs a carbon tax. California favors a cap-and-trade program. Oregon lawmakers are considering joining the Golden State system.

“I read that trip in part in trying to figure out if there is an opportunity for the entire West Coast to link to some sort of coherent carbon pricing mechanism,” said Eric de Place, policy director at the Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based think tank.

The Pacific Coast Collaborative is an outgrowth of America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. Like the U.S. climate alliance, its aim is to coordinate state and regional climate efforts. But thus far, its aims have been more aspirational, seeking to align state goals on renewables, energy efficiency and fuel standards. So far, it has not embraced the Western Climate Initiative, an expansion of California’s cap-and-trade program.

Back in Washington state, many observers expect Inslee to implement a renewable fuel standard, which Senate Republicans blocked in recent years. The governor may also pursue a carbon tax or wider cap and trade.

Come next year, Inslee’s test will be turning his global aspirations into local action.