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Spin Control

Sat., June 3, 2017, 6:06 p.m.

Could climate change belief split the country?

Plenty of issues divide the country. 

Abortion. Endangered species. Racism. The Federal Reserve. The New World Order. The nuclear arms race. Conservatism. Feminism. Drug legalization. Liberalism. Integration. Obamacare. Gay marriage. 

In just about any controversy, it doesn’t take long before the side on the outs is talking about how it might be time to pick up its marbles and go play with like-minded friends. Most times, they come back around.

So it’s hard to say that President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the nation out the Paris Climate Accord isn’t merely the latest in a long line of controversies that generate deeply felt convictions but do little more than create arguments with relatives over Thanksgiving dinner. It’s probably not the 2017 version of the shelling of Fort Sumter, which led to the last true division.

But almost as soon as Trump announced the United States was tearing up the accords, Govs. Jay Inslee, Jerry Brown and Andrew Cuomo were announcing a way to put them back together, one piece at a time, and inviting other states and cities to join them in a new confederacy, the U.S. Climate Alliance.

To some, Washington might seem to be a strange, middling-sized third wheel to the pairing of the nation’s most populous East Coast state and its most populous West Coast state. But it would be stranger still if Inslee weren’t a charter member of this alliance. He’s been eager to confront Trump on almost every front, and environmental issues are to Inslee what a hanging curve is a power hitter – something at which one swings, dreaming of the fences. 

He continues to swing at a carbon tax, but has yet to connect. The state is, however, working to reduce carbon emissions, increase the number of electronic vehicles and expand sources of alternative energy.

Inslee has also talked environmental stuff with world leaders in recent meetings The topic came up when he met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last month in Seattle and when he met with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City during a recent trade visit.

The latter is something like being called up from Triple A for a stint in the Major Leagues, because standard protocol usually has visiting governors meeting with local governors. Pena Nieto and Inslee apparently got together because Washington has a large number of Mexican immigrants, and the governor is telling Trump to take a flying leap on helping with aspects of the administration’s tougher stance on immigration enforcement while dissing “the Wall.”

He assured Pena Nieto that regardless of what happens on the federal level, Washington will continue efforts to fight climate change. While the United States’ expected withdrawal from the Paris climate accords didn’t come up specifically Trudeau, they did talk about clean energy, Inslee’s staff said.

The alliance has yet to settle on a structure, goals or funding, Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Inslee, said. “We’re in the process of working that out.”

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Oregon joins once a structure is in place, considering it has partnered with the other two Pacific Coast states and British Columbia on various initiatives.

Given the political divisions of the country, it also wouldn’t be shocking for Democratic blue states on either coast to form the bulk of this alliance, joined possibly by some large cities. After Trump said he was pulling the country out of the accords because he was “elected by the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto took umbrage at his city being dragged into the controversy. Pittsburgh would try to go beyond the accords to get 100 percent clean and renewable energy, he said.

Republican red states and the conservative suburban, exurban and rural areas beyond those cities might applaud Trump’s decision, with debates raging whether the climate is changing, and if so whether it’s just a natural cycle, which people can’t change, or God’s will, which they shouldn’t.

Given the sharp divides in the country over climate change and some other issues, some people have suggested Washington, Oregon and California should just split off from the United States, go their own way, good riddance. 

While the controversy over climate may be more regionalized than abortion or health care reform, it is not one that can be solved by redrawing geographic boundaries.

The interesting thing about any effort by those three states to fight climate change could benefit the states that don’t much care about it. When they do all they can to keep smog, ozone, carbon dioxide or other pollutants out of their air, that air doesn’t stop at their borders and make a U-Turn. It continues flowing into other states, reducing carbon pollution in some areas whether they believe in climate change or not. 




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The Spokesman-Review's political team keeps a critical eye on local, state and national politics.