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Wed., March 6, 2013, midnight

Editorial: Assessment of green options worthwhile

Jay Inslee on Tuesday took a rare step for a sitting governor; he sat down before a legislative committee to testify on behalf of one of his several bills intended to fire up the Washington economy.

It’s a modest bill at that, within the total $120 million jobs package he introduced last month. He wants to hire a consultant to compile a study of best green energy practices around the world. The findings would be digested by a work group that will recommend policies that will enable the state to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the Legislature five years ago.

Washington is not on a trajectory that would return emissions to the mandated 1990 level by 2020, and to one-half those levels by 2050, despite the economic slowdown. Inslee, a longtime alternative energy proponent, says achieving the target emissions rates can be a stimulant to the state economy, not a drag, if it can achieve its “destined” leadership in clean energy technology; innovation, not deprivation, as he put it.

Much of that innovation is already here. Inslee noted Demand Energy Networks, a Spokane company whose battery and software packages allow utilities or building owners to store cheap, off-hour electricity for use during high-demand, high-cost periods. McKinstry, which converted the old Spokane and Inland Empire Rail Road Rail Car Facility into a handsome, energy-sipping office facility, was also mentioned.

Inslee says he wants Washington to establish global leadership in green technology, just as it has in aerospace and software. But there is plenty to be learned elsewhere before the state identifies the best strategies for emissions reductions. That would be the consultant’s mission.

As to the potential costs, the governor said inaction has a price; in lower snowpack damaging to irrigators, higher risk of forest fires, and the acidification of ocean waters, which is already threatening the state’s $270 million shellfish industry.

Asked by Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, about why Washington should act if China does not, Inslee made an ethics argument: Short would not throw trash out her car window even if she knew others were.

A good point that would be better if taken to heart by the Chinese.

Inslee made clear the grunt work done by the consultant and work group will be the foundation of a broad green economy strategy he will submit to the Legislature next year. While nervous about what that plan might look like, we see no harm in a thorough third-party assessment of the state’s options.

Unfortunately, the most obvious component of an effective plan is probably off the table this year, and several years to come.

Transportation generates 44 percent of emissions in Washington, but a new poll shows very little support for road and bridge fixes that would make the system more efficient. Subsequent news that poor Department of Transportation pontoon designs for the Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington could cost as much as $100 million to correct is not much of a confidence-builder.

Inslee says Washingtonians just need the tools to reach the goals set by the 2008 Legislature. The first rule when using a tool: measure twice.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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