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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Special to The Spokesman-Review: Washington governor shows bias with choices for climate change panel

Sen. Mark Schoesler

After legislators made it clear they don’t all view the question of climate change as he does, Gov. Jay Inslee is trying to salvage his pet issue by taking it behind closed doors, pretty much ignoring those who would be stuck with the tab – and most everyone east of the Cascades.

When President Obama began brandishing his executive power to bypass Congress, he justified it by saying “we cannot wait.” Inslee said the same when end-running the Legislature with a recent executive order about what he calls “carbon pollution.” The governor could have promoted a transparent, statewide discussion that lets the climate-change chips fall where they may. Instead, Inslee is limiting the secret talks to participants of his choosing rather than including people with reason to offer contrary views.

Inslee’s approach centers on a task force that is to “shape” the climate-change legislation he will offer for 2015. However, a look at the hand-picked group, which met for the first time the day its creation was announced, suggests there will be less shaping and more rubber-stamping.

One task force co-chair comes from Seattle’s Vulcan Inc. Founded by billionaire Paul Allen, Vulcan isn’t the sort of small business that forms the economic backbone of communities across Washington. But, then again, Inslee’s 21-person group doesn’t include a soul from the small-business community. The other co-chair is from the downtown Seattle environmental law firm that gave us David Dicks, the incompetent former head of the state Puget Sound Partnership.

Also on the list: four representatives of organized labor; two from renewable-energy organizations; one from an immigrant-rights group; and one from a policy group with a reputation for favoring tax increases. Couldn’t Inslee have been content with just three labor-union delegates and instead offered a place at the table to one of the many small employers jeopardized by his cap-and-trade push?

The interests of Central and Eastern Washington are being carried by only two people, or less than 10 percent of the panel. Those seats went to the Chelan County Public Utility District, a government agency, and Richland-based Energy Northwest, an energy supplier. The voice of a cooperative such as Inland Power and Light Co., whose ratepayers already are being pinched by the buy-before-need consequences of Washington’s renewable-energy law, won’t be heard.

Agriculture is Washington’s largest employer, and we rank third nationally for agricultural exports, yet agriculture’s presence in the group is limited to a forest-products industry representative and the state’s dairy federation director. While the governor talks about climate change affecting shellfish, the apple industry and irrigation, those categories aren’t represented. Neither are freight haulers and automobile-industry dealers, meaning our state’s ground-based transportation sector has no one to speak for it – but the methane-producing cows do.

If the governor thought a task force endorsement would lend credibility to legislation he proposes for 2015, he could and should have assembled a panel representing the broad swath of those who stand to bear the high cost of his climate-change agenda. Instead, Inslee’s hand-picked group dodges the threatened sectors of the economy the way he himself is sidestepping the Legislature.

This task force could do one useful thing: persuade the governor to come clean about how his climate-change agenda will increase energy costs, including fuel prices. People know Inslee wants a gas-tax increase to fund additional transportation projects. They deserve to know whether he’s also looking to hit them with a carbon-fuel tax – maybe 30 cents, even a dollar per gallon of gas – to support the climate-change pact he quietly signed last year (in California, home to a billionaire climate-change crusader who has since tried to influence elections here).

As a side note, I am heartened that Inslee has pulled Washington State University and the state energy program it runs into the process. Hopefully the governor will dip into his office budget to help WSU offset the cost.

During his 2013 inaugural address, after urging Washingtonians to “square up to both our responsibility and our opportunity on climate change,” Inslee followed with this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

This year the Legislature challenged the governor’s stance on climate change. Now, he’s resorted to the convenience of issuing an executive order and the comfort of a hand-picked task force that can rubber-stamp his agenda. By his own standard, Inslee isn’t measuring up.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, is Senate Republican leader.