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Lands Commissioner Franz urges lawmakers to come up with targeted plan to fight carbon pollution

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 5, 2018

Hilary Franz speaks Sept. 14, 2016, at an event months before winning the election for Washington state Commissioner of Public Lands, in Cle Elum, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Hilary Franz speaks Sept. 14, 2016, at an event months before winning the election for Washington state Commissioner of Public Lands, in Cle Elum, Wash. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

OLYMPIA – Annual temperatures may rise by 2 to 8 degrees, average snowpack may drop by 41 percent by 2050 and the sea level for the Washington coast could rise by anywhere from 4 inches to 56 inches by 2100, all while coastal waters become significantly more acidic, a panel of environmental experts warns.

To combat these changes, Washington should adopt a more comprehensive strategy to reduce carbon pollution and store carbon in safe places in the environment, Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz urged Thursday in a letter to legislative leaders.

“While we still have much to learn, we know with certainty that climate change will impact our wildfires, forests, soils and waters, and the timber, fish, shellfish, crops and wild plants that sustain our communities,” she said.

Some of those changes are detailed in a new report on the risks of climate change to Department of Natural Resources lands, which Franz oversees. A panel of experts on environmental science, climate and aquatics from Washington State University, the University of Washington and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration compiled a list of possible impacts of increased carbon pollution and climate change through 2100.

Franz urged legislators to find ways to reduce greenhouse gases, including a system to reduce carbon pollution through a cap or a penalty. That money should be spent directly on projects to reduce carbon pollution, she said.

That could put her at odds with fellow Democrat Gov. Jay Inslee, who next week is expected to unveil a carbon tax or fee that could be used partially to replenish a state reserve account he would like to tap to meet a state Supreme Court mandate on paying for public school improvements. Franz’s proposal wouldn’t allow carbon money to be used that way.

“I’m urging that any carbon policy is smart … and makes sure there’s a nexus with carbon reduction,” she said in an interview.

Smart carbon policy would focus on several areas, including reductions in wildfire danger and improving forest health, she said. The department and Legislature have committed to treating 1 million acres of forest over the next 20 years.

“Any money we’re spending now will be significant money saved in the long run,” Franz said. Fighting Washington wildfires between 2014 and 2016 cost the state $500 million, she added. (Editor’s note: The early version of this story incorrectly stated the time the state spent that amount fighting wildfires.)

The state should also invest more in water retention projects in Eastern and Central Washington, to help combat erosion and topsoil loss in hotter, drier summers, she said.

Legislative leaders gathered for a preview of the upcoming session acknowledged that carbon pollution deserves attention, but weren’t sure if a comprehensive policy could be developed in 2018. A possible state initiative to impose a carbon tax is possible if the Legislature doesn’t act.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said he’d be against any carbon tax that has a disproportionate impact on different parts of the state, different individuals or businesses. He also would want a constitutional amendment to limit the tax.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said the Legislature should pay attention to efforts to prevent wildfires, which when they occur are the largest producers of carbon pollution. But he wants to be sure any proposal isn’t “tax heavy but policy short.”

Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said she has members working on a carbon policy, which some data shows is the biggest issue for millennial voters. But the 2018 session is only scheduled to go 60 days, and a carbon policy “is a big lift,” she said.

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