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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Ferguson goes after Reichert for suggesting ‘guy upstairs’ is causing climate change

By Jerry Cornfield Washington State Standard

For the last 12 years as Washington’s governor, Jay Inslee has led the state in the epic global battle to save the planet from the harms of climate change.

It will be a tough act to follow for Bob Ferguson, the man Inslee wants to succeed him in this year’s governor’s race but who has not soldiered on the front lines of the climate fight in his three terms as the state’s attorney general. Though climate policy is not a cornerstone of Ferguson’s campaign, the presumed Democratic front-runner has pledged to carry the baton if it is passed to him.

This week, Ferguson moved to burnish his environmental credentials, while painting Republican candidate Dave Reichert as out of touch.

He cited comments earlier this year by Reichert as evidence that the former congressman doesn’t accept the science on causes of climate change and will undo the state’s work to address its negative impacts.

Reichert is heard on a recording of an event in March saying current state policies cannot counter the effects of climate change because only “the guy upstairs” is responsible for controlling the weather.

“I believe that the weather is changing, the climate is changing, but the guy upstairs is doing it. We want clean water and clean air, but we’re not going to be changing the weather with the stuff that we’re doing,” Reichert says in an audio clip Ferguson’s campaign provided to the Washington State Standard. It was recorded by a campaign worker, the candidate confirmed.

In an interview Wednesday, Ferguson said that while Reichert is casting himself as a moderate on the issue, his words tell a different story about how he will govern.

“Number one, humans are contributing to climate change. That’s a scientific fact. He’s denying that. Number two, he’s suggesting there’s nothing we can do that impacts our climate. Wrong again,” Ferguson said. “One can have a debate about whether this policy or that policy is wise, or is the best use of resources. But to be governor of the state of Washington, one cannot begin at a starting point that denies accepted science on this issue. And that’s where he is.”

Ferguson is expected to discuss the comments Thursday evening at a fundraiser for Washington Conservation Action, a leading statewide environmental organization that has endorsed him.

In a written statement, Reichert said Thursday, “Of course climate change is real. How to address climate change will be one of the greatest challenges future generations will face.

“Our State should be a leader in the nation on this issue. But leading shouldn’t come on the backs of the hardworking families of Washington, like those who can no longer afford to fill up their tanks because of the carbon tax policies created by unapologetic politicians,” he said. “We all endeavor to protect the future, but we need a clean energy policy that is predictable, reliable, and certainly affordable.”

‘It’s become a religion’

Reichert, who served seven terms in Congress after a stint as King County sheriff, traveled to the small town of Tekoa in Whitman County, near the Idaho border, on March 6. Organizers expected him to discuss his campaign and topics of importance to the rural community like farming, water rights, public safety, and climate policies.

Ferguson campaign officials provided a roughly two-minute audio clip from the event. The Standard provided a partial transcript to Reichert’s campaign.

At the start, Reichert appears to be responding to frustration over state environmental regulations on local farmers and cattle owners. He voices support for boosting local control for communities “instead of the state government dictating to you what’s happening in your town.”

He then pivots to talk more broadly about the state’s approach to climate policy.

“We all want to keep Washington green, clean and pristine. Problem is (climate policy) has become a religion. And it has trumped the human beings that live here. And the money that we’re putting into the effort, we’re not getting the return,” he says.

He goes on to criticize investments in bus transit and light rail. “We’re spending all this money instead of building our highways and our freeways and repairing our bridges and our culverts. The culverts are one of the biggest disasters in the state because they help pollute. If you don’t fix those, they’re polluting our rivers and streams right?” he is heard saying on the recording.

“I believe that the weather is changing, the climate is changing, but it’s the guy upstairs doing it,” he says. “We can do what we can do to make it clean. We want clean water and clean air, but we’re not going to be changing the weather with the stuff that we’re doing.”

Is it making a difference?

Ferguson and Reichert are the leading fund-raisers and sit atop most polls in these early stages of the race for governor.

But they are not their parties’ only candidates. Semi Bird, endorsed by the Washington State Republican Party, and Mark Mullet, a Democratic state senator from Issaquah, with strong business support, are also vying to succeed Inslee. The top two finishers in the Aug. 6 primary will face off in the Nov. 5 general election.

To date, none of them have pushed out environmental platforms.

Ferguson, Reichert and Mullet have embraced building diesel-powered vessels for the troubled Washington State Ferries, if it is the fastest way to add boats needed to boost reliability of service amid the ongoing threat of cancellations when an existing vessel breaks down.

This route would be a retreat from the state’s drive to electrify the fleet. The governor slammed such a backstep as “a brain-dead thing” at a news conference last month. And the leader of the state Department of Transportation told lawmakers earlier this year new diesel-powered ferries could not be designed, built and delivered any faster than hybrid-electrics.

The costs and benefits of Washington’s climate policies will be a point of debate in the campaign. These include a carbon pricing program, clean fuel standard, and new rules to hasten use of heat pumps rather than natural gas to heat new homes. Collectively these measures are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington to 45% below 1990 levels by 2030 and 95% by 2050.

A centerpiece is the law known as the Climate Commitment Act that sets annual emission limits for major emitters, such as oil refiners and utilities, and requires them to buy allowances at state auctions for each metric ton of their pollution.

It’s brought in $2.1 billion thus far with funding used to buy electric school buses, provide free public transit for youth, expand air quality monitoring, and install electric vehicle chargers. A portion will pay for a one-time $200 credit on residential electricity bills for thousands of low- and moderate-income families by Sept. 15.

But it could go away this fall. A citizen initiative on the November ballot would repeal the law if passed. The initiative’s backers contend the policy won’t significantly move the needle on climate change but is driving fuel, food and energy prices higher as companies pass the new expense onto consumers.

Ferguson and Mullet say they will vote against it. Reichert and Bird have said they are supporting it.

This won’t be the first time Reichert weighs in on a carbon pricing program. In 2009, as a member of Congress, he voted for the American Clean Energy and Security Act to create a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions and impose other rules to reduce emissions nationwide. It passed the House but lapsed in the Senate.