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Senate passes whittled-down climate change bill

Fri., March 13, 2009

OLYMPIA – Less than two months after Gov. Chris Gregoire and other state leaders proposed a groundbreaking law to combat climate change, political opposition has whittled the plan down to a shell of its former self.

“It’s essentially a bill that does nothing,” environmental lobbyist Clifford Traisman said Wednesday night, shortly after the Senate approved a much-amended version of the plan. “They basically passed a bumper sticker.”

But the battle’s not over, he and other proponents say. They’re hoping to strengthen the bill as it moves through the House of Representatives in the next few weeks.

“It’s up to the Legislature now to show leadership,” said Jessica Finn Coven, with the group Climate Solutions.

Republicans and business groups have criticized the plan, calling it an expensive local approach to an international problem.

“Our economy is bleeding jobs. Why would we send our employers any message that a huge new tax is looming?” said Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake.

Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, blasted “this whole greenhouse gas fraud.” He told Democrats that he wasn’t surprised that the bill had been toned down. “That tells me that you’ve read the polling, too, that tells you people are all for the environment – until you tell them that it’s going to cost them,” said Delvin.

Lawmakers last year set standards for reducing Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. This year’s bill would have set up a “cap and trade” system to measure pollutants, enforce limits and set up a way for industry to swap pollution credits.

In January, Gregoire criticized the Bush administration for “dragging its feet” on fighting global climate change. “We choose action,” she said at the time. “…We must save the planet for our children and for our grandchildren.”

In the past two months, however, political opposition has stripped away much of the bill. What’s left, both sides say, is largely a study of how to meet the goal set last year. But proponents argue that as the federal government moves ahead on the issue, the state must be ready.

Washington can’t stand on the sidelines and be shut out of whatever national plan emerges, said Sen. Chris Marr. “We can’t afford inaction just because this bill is not perfected,” he said.

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, compared the situation to the spotted owl debates in the early 1980s. Far better, he said, to be at the table when such decisions are made. “We resisted like crazy, and we basically got run over,” he said.

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