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John Kerry: Individual states can lead on climate change

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 13, 2018, 3:30 p.m.

In this May 4, 2016 file photo, then Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the State Department in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)
In this May 4, 2016 file photo, then Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks with Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz at the State Department in Washington. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

OLYMPIA – Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday urged support for legislative efforts in the Washington state to pass a carbon pollution tax to address climate change.

Kerry told reporters outside the state Capitol that while the U.S. has pulled out of the Paris agreement – the global pact on climate change that he helped negotiate in 2015 – the American people have not. Individual states such as Washington can lead on the issue, he said.

“People are still looking to the United States and what we do, even if it’s several states, is profoundly important,” said Kerry, a former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and presidential candidate in 2004.

Gov. Jay Inslee invited the fellow Democrat to Olympia to participate in meetings on his proposed tax on fossil fuel emissions. An Inslee spokeswoman said Kerry’s trip was not paid for by the state.

Kerry was secretary of state during President Barack Obama’s second term. He has criticized President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from that accord. Trump has said leaving the agreement reasserted “America’s sovereignty.”

“Absolutely it would be better to have a national plan. But that’s not going to happen right now. Because we’re seeing reversals,” Kerry said, referring to methane and other environmental regulations. “We’re seeing a step backward. So unfortunately it’s been left to the states to define the future.”

Since taking office in 2013, Inslee has proposed several carbon-pricing measures to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the bills haven’t gain traction in previous legislative sessions.

This session, Senate Bill 6203, which the governor requested, is scheduled to be heard Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The measure would impose a new tax of $10 per metric ton of carbon emissions, lower than the $20 per ton Inslee originally proposed. The tax would gradually increase until it’s capped at $30 a ton.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, the bill’s sponsor and a Seattle Democrat who stood next to Kerry Tuesday, called it a “modest but responsible investment in our energy future.”

“We intend to pass it,” Inslee told reporters.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, a Ferndale Republican, questioned “why a multimillionaire from the other Washington is coming to Washington state to advocate for a massive tax increase on working families.”

He called Inslee’s plan “simply a gas tax increase and a home heating tax increase,” and a bad idea for working families. He also said it gives away too many corporate exemptions.

If the Legislature doesn’t act on a carbon pricing measure during the short 60-day session that ends March 8, a coalition of environmental, labor and other groups say they will move ahead with a citizen’s initiative this November.

In an interview earlier this month, Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp said that initiative will have a tight nexus between revenues raised and investments in strategies to address climate change, including renewable energy, forests and other natural resources.

She said it will also recognize the relationship between the tribes and the state as co-managers of the state’s natural resources.