Importance to the North Olympic Peninsula of climate action:
The North Olympic Peninsula has a particular vulnerability to climate impacts. Our local economy depends upon healthy forests and wildlife, fresh water from our glaciers and snowpack, a healthy salmon and shellfish fishery, tourism, and our reputation as a wonderful place to live and retire. All of these will be negatively impacted by projected climate changes. Additionally, Clallam County is listed as the most vulnerable county in Washington State for wildfire damage to property, and that is projected to get even worse with increasing temperatures and drier summers. Finally, our infrastructure is particularly vulnerable due to our extensive shorelines and mountainous topography. We urge aggressive actions that will both reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and provide the resources to help communities mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
We support the following pledge, for both citizens and candidates for elective office:
“I will support and give my vote to candidates who commit to take meaningful, timely action to reduce climate-disrupting activities.”
All candidates should be asked what they will do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our area, Washington State, and the nation.
Pricing greenhouse gases (GG):
GG taxes, fees, and caps: The cost of GG must be made to reflect its true long-term, broad-scale environmental and social cost. This might be accomplished by a number of means: a revenue-neutral GG tax such as administered in British Columbia and advocated by CarbonWA, a fee-and-dividend system such as promoted by the Citizens Climate Lobby, or a cap-and-trade system such as implemented in California. While a tax would be a more efficient mechanism for reducing GG emissions, a pollution cap has the virtue of potentially-quicker adoption. Such systems, to work effectively, must not mask efficient price signals with artificial controls. The market mechanisms and adjustments to the cap to avoid undue economic harm will be tricky to implement, but with the right leadership they can work.
Indirect mechanisms to internalize the cost of GG: Short of the broad market mechanisms described above, which uniquely offer solutions at the required scale, we support interim measures to internalize the true costs of GG, such as tighter regulations on the extraction, processing, transportation, and use of fossil fuels. We recognize such measures as insufficient, however.
Washington State government policies:
Stronger state GHG reduction goals needed: The current GHG reduction goals adopted by the 2008 State Legislature in RCW 70.235 must be updated. The National Academies report Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia (2010) establishes that global CO2 emissions must be reduced by 80% to stabilize concentrations in the atmosphere at any level. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 already exceed safe levels. The GHG reductions proposed in the RCW, which at their greatest are less than 60% 37 years from now, will produce increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and catastrophic climate change. In Beyond ‘Dangerous’ Climate Change: Emission Scenarios for a New World (2010), Anderson and Bows recommend industrialized nations reduce GHG emissions about 10% per year to have a 50% chance of staying below 2 degrees C of warming. The current State goals reduce emissions at a rate of between 1% and 2% per year.
More action needed to meet current state-mandated goals: To at least meet the 2008 GHG reduction targets, we agree with the Inslee-Ranker-Fitzgibbon report that decisive further action needs to be taken now. Five main areas of action are identified:
- A cap on carbon pollution emissions, focused on the larger emission sectors such as transportation, buildings and electricity, along with a market mechanism to reach these caps in the most efficient and fair way. (See our “Pricing Greenhouse Gases” position for more on this topic.)
- Measures to reduce our use of electricity generated by coal-powered facilities in other states.
- An energy-smart building program to include promotion of new financing, incentives and support.
- Dedicated and sustained funding to help our research institutions, utilities and businesses develop, demonstrate and deploy new renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies.
- One technology touted as “green energy” that we generally oppose is burning woody biomass, because it emits more CO2 per unit of energy than coal, requires 40-100 years to absorb the CO2 burned now, causes lung, cardio, and other diseases, and is a very expensive energy generation source, even without accounting for its health costs. There may be limited cases where biomass burning makes sense, but not on the scale of projects already underway and proposed.
- Measures that will modernize our system for transporting goods and people, such as clean cars, cleaner fuels, the transportation system, and land use planning.
Indirect contribution to GG emissions: We must also look to our role in the promotion of GHG emissions elsewhere. Even if we aggressively pursued all the actions summarized above, their collective reduction in GHG emissions would pale in comparison to the increase in emissions that will result if coal, oil and natural gas exports to Asia increase significantly from Canadian tar sands and other fossil-fuel fields in the American West. Some of the nation’s top climate scientists have said that if these fossil fuel reserves are fully exploited, it will be “game over for the planet.”
Role of state transportation infrastructure: Washington State plays a significant role in facilitating fossil fuel export and the import of equipment related to its extraction, transport, and refinement. Much of the pressure to expand port infrastructure in the State relates to burgeoning extraction of fossil fuels in the interior West. The State should not allow the development of coal, oil or natural gas terminals nor allow the transport of oversized equipment on its highways and waterways destined to the Canadian tar sands—transport which State taxpayers are in fact subsidizing.
Infrastructure permits should require assessment of cumulative GHG impacts: Such port projects typically require an Army Corps of Engineers or State Department of Ecology permit or certification, and the issuance of such a permit usually involves public meeting, review and comment processes. When commenting on such a project, it is important to note its impact on air and water quality, as well as on federal- and State-protected species, due to the role of the project in facilitating the emission of GHGs. These individual and cumulative impacts are relevant to the nation’s environmental laws, such as the Clean Air and Water Acts, Endangered Species Act, and National and State Environmental Policy Acts, among numerous others. Such GHG and cumulative impacts go beyond those that have traditionally been considered for such projects.
Typically, a project’s impacts might have been evaluated solely at a local level, e.g., possible spills at facilities and localized pollution impacts. We are becoming increasingly aware, however, of the way in which GHG emissions anywhere are impacting Washington State, threatening water resources, agriculture, forest, human health, public infrastructure, and terrestrial, freshwater and marine life. While these impacts are often caught up in arguments over whether they are direct, indirect, long term or cumulative, none are exempt from analysis during the permitting process just because their impacts are dispersed over space and/or time. Furthermore, when the totality of proposed infrastructure projects is considered, the cumulative impact is even greater, a point that Corps and State permits must address.
One problem for permitting agencies is where to draw the boundary for cumulative effect assessments. While there is no clear answer to this question, that boundary is definitely greater than the infrastructure project itself and/or its immediate neighborhood. A regional analysis, for example, would view the project and permit in question within the State’s plan to reduce GHG emissions Statewide under RCW 70.235, and whether it makes sense to expend State funds to reduce GHG emissions while at the same time permitting projects whose cumulative impact would undermine any reductions otherwise achieved.
Impact of fossil-fuel infrastructure and clean energy development on jobs and the economy: Some will argue that if Washington does not allow such projects, someone else will, and the jobs will go with them. But that is no reason to back off from understanding that if we continue providing a cheap route for the fossil fuel industry, we will pay dearly in the long run. Studies conducted by the University of Oregon found that, absent further action to mitigate the impacts of climate change, each household in Washington will pay an additional $3,633 each year by 2020 (in 2008 dollars) — a total cost to the State of almost $10 billion by 2020. Conversely, moves toward a clean-energy economy would accelerate the State’s economy. A 2009 analysis indicated that the Western Climate Initiative cap and trade strategy, if implemented as designed, would result in a net increase of 19,300 jobs and $3.3 billion more in economic output in Washington by 2020.
Divestment from fossil fuels: The State should immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuels, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. State retirement plans should offer fossil-free investment fund options for state employees. Individuals are encouraged to divest their own portfolios of fossil-fuel related investments.
Increase resources for climate mitigation and adaptation: We also recommend an aggressive approach to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change. Among our recommendations are:
- An assessment of the economic impact of climate change and ocean acidification on the ecosystem services we now enjoy in Washington State, along with the most promising and cost-effective mitigation measures.
- A broad education program to better inform our citizens of the potential impacts from climate change, how to reduce our carbon footprint, and what we can do to prepare for the projected changes.
- Increased funding for improvements to help mitigate projected damage to water supplies, roads, and other public infrastructure.
- An in-depth review of our state laws and regulations to ensure that we discourage building in vulnerable areas and encourage actions to protect our water, agriculture, and forest resources.
U.S. government policies:
- Regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under the federal Clean Air Act, including the Clean Power Plan to limit emissions from the power industry.
- Strong international agreements to cut greenhouse gas emissions, with the United States in a leadership role.
- Putting a price on greenhouse gas to reflect its social costs and lower its consumption.
- Trade agreements that would enable private interests to trump environmental regulations, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and the EU, both of which would have a significant impact on governments’ ability to enforce measures to protect the climate. The agreements, which are being drafted in secret, are believed to empower corporations to challenge climate and other public interest policies in private trade tribunals, and would require the United States to automatically approve exports of oil and gas to countries in the agreements, therefore incentivizing increased production, transportation, etc. We call for replacement of these agreements with a new model of trade authority with increased Congressional and public accountability. We have signed on to the Citizens’ Trade Campaign letter opposing TPP.