Oil Check Washington

Several Washington legislators are arguing against cutting pollution, here's why they're wrong

- Congresswomen Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)

October 30th - Election day is right around the corner and across the Northwest politicians have been making their case with speeches, ads and op-eds. Among these has been a round-robin of pieces against the Washington Department of Ecology’s plan to regulate pollution. They’ve also subsequently attacked upcoming ballot initiatives that will add strength to the proposal by charging polluters for what they emit.

Between all of them were three common themes. Below we’ll go through each argument these pundits and politicians put forth. Some are misleading, others completely dishonest.

This isn’t the right way to do it

During the last legislative session this past summer, our state’s political leaders had a chance to pass legislation that would have strongly regulated emissions and finally held our state's largest polluters accountable. But like the gridlock we’ve seen on so many issues crippling our state (education funding, tax reform, transportation) they failed to pass a plan. Since 2008, Washington has had a state mandate to reduce pollution. Last summer’s plan was just the latest in a series of attempts. Lawmakers have had ample opportunities to implement the “right” strategy but continue to stall, obfuscate, and change plans as soon as there is one on the table.

State Senator Tim Sheldon and Sharon Brown Tacoma News Tribune OP-ED:

“Rather than enacting a punitive and expensive scheme, we would unleash the power of innovation, creating new industries and high-paying jobs in the process.”

Now that Ecology has developed its own plan to comply with our state’s mandate to address pollution, opponents bemoan their voices not being included in the process, that they had the right plan all along. But after 7 years of delay many Washingtonians are simply tired of waiting. This sentiment is clear from a recent announcement from the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Instead of counting on a legislature that's let us down so often they'll be issuing a ballot measure to “the people” in 2016 to charge polluters for what they emit, giving teeth to Ecology’s plan.

When someone could have fixed something themselves, its hard to take any of their criticisms for other plans seriously. If you can't be bother to fix your car, you don't get to tell the mechanic how to tune your engine. If legislators wanted to be part of the process to find the right solution to reduce pollution they could have done it themselves this past session. This smells much more of delay for delay's sake rather than pure ideological difference around "unleashing innovation".

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- Senator Tim Sheldon (D-WA)

We already do “so much”

A rather disingenuous and insidious argument heard lately is that Washington is so "green" already, why do we have to do more? This notion prays on the very ideals that are pushing our state to regulate pollution in the first place.

From State Congressional Republicans Cathy McMorris and Dan Newhouse Spokesman Journal OPED:

Our state has demonstrated strong leadership in the development of safe efficient use of wind, solar, nuclear, biofuels and other innovative energy technologies, to the point where Washington is ranked 8th by the US EIA for states with the lowest carbon emissions per capita.”

Using the fact that we've made some progress in the past isn't a strong argument for inaction today. The question is whether these choices are still a good idea now. Pricing emissions and not allowing polluters to dump their waste for free has been shown time and again to improve public health and help the economy run more efficiently. It's also hard to take Congresswomen McMorris’s praise for alternative energy and low emissions as anything but cynical grandstanding. She has a lifetime score of 5/100 from the League of Conservation Voters, voted down every renewable energy tax credit and voted for every oil industry subsidy since she’s been in office. She also took over $130,000 in campaign contributions from oil and coal companies last year, by far the most of Washington’s national representatives.

From Washington Climate Collaborative:

“In fact, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, carbon emissions from Washington-based industry decreased 21% from 1990 to 2011. Our state is on the right track. Only by working together can we accomplish our shared environmental goals.”

The Washington Climate Collaborative, sporting members like the Western State Petroleum Association and the Washington Oil Marketers Association is constantly putting out cookie cutter pieces like this every time new environmental legislation comes up. “This just isn’t the right plan right now. But we have one that does a tiny bit of the work needed, its the sensible alternative. Besides everything’s great already anyway.” (Its worth a read for a lesson in deflecting the problem) Tired arguments like this miss the point. Do we still have areas of our state devastated by pollution? Yes. Are our industries already being hit with the drastic effects of a warming world? Just ask any shell-fisherman. Will the benefits of fixing these problems far out way the costs? By Trillions.

Besides, who’s happy with being the 8th best state?

It won’t change anything anyway

Tim Sheldon and Sharon Brown Tacoma Tribune Op-Ed:

“We produce just two-tenths of one percent of the world’s carbon, and that share is falling as carbon production in China and India increases. Over the next 50 years, we will get even greener as individuals make the choice to replace gas-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles and zero-carbon-emitting energy sources like modern nuclear power become more readily available.”

State Senators Tim Sheldon and Sharon Brown use this argument through out the piece and in dozens of related speeches. This is the well known prisoner’s dilemma, a social experiment that essentially boils down to “if we all benefit equally from something I should not contribute anything because then I’ll get all the reward with none of the costs.” This is most cynical style argument out there and plainly just isn’t true. China and other major rising Asian economic powers know that a strong modern economy is built on healthy working cities. Coal doesn’t lend well to that future. As Oil Check has laid out before, China has seen the largest political unrest in its modern history due to pollution protests and its rapidly transitioning to a clean energy economy because of it.

But beyond the fact that this argument is simply wrong, it once again misses the point. In a perfect world we could look at a label and see how much something was really costing us. But unfortunately health impacts from pollution aren't included in the “terms and conditions” when you buy a new car or in the byline when you get your utility bill. The market is distorted and needs a correction. That's why such an overwhelming number of economists want a price on pollution. It gives us a real picture of how much things are actually costing us and gives alternatives a fair playing field.

This level of cynicism is no surprise from Senator Sheldon. While there’s still a “D” in front of his name he announced in 2012 that he’d caucus with state Republicans, yet still touts “bi-partisanship” when talking about his opposition to climate legislation (if you read his piece above its clear he only cares about winning short term political points). And to the surprise of no one, he took more fossil fuel donations than any state level politician of either party.

These arguments come up all the time and at first seem reasonable, even middle of the road. But the more we break them down and look at what they’re actually saying (and who the messenger is) it becomes clear pretty fast that cynicism runs deep in Washington politics. The state’s sick of it, and we’re getting things done our own way.


- Nick Abraham Editor Oil Check Northwest

[email protected] @oilchecknw

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