Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Silent night... and a few silent days

Don't expect much from us the next several days as we'll be playing in the snow, drinking eggnog, and enjoying some quality time with our families before abandoning them for the 2009 session.

Happiest of holidays to everyone from the members and staff of the House Democratic Caucus!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cap-and-trade idea bumping up against economic forces

Last year the Legislature approved HB 2815, a comprehensive bill that put in motion an aggressive effort to dramatically decrease greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state. The state Department of Ecology and Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development just released the Comprehensive Plan focusing on the first major goal of the legislation which is to reduce Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

A centerpiece of the plan is a regional cap-and-trade system in cooperation with the Western Climate Initiative, a coalition of seven states and four Canadian provinces. It also happens to be the top priority of the Washington Environmental Priorities Coalition which actually calls this a "Cap and Invest" program, emphasizing that money from the program would be directed to encourage new green jobs and innovation, as well as help low-income households with energy bills.

There’s broad agreement among legislators and stakeholders that such a system is the right way to go, but as with many good ideas, disagreement arises over the details of how it should be implemented.

And now that Washington is looking at an almost $6 billion shortfall, the details are getting even stickier. Environmentalists and many legislators have pushed for a cap-and-trade system that auctions off credits to businesses. The idea is that companies who need the emission credits will buy more.
But businesses, suffering through the economic recession, are raising concerns, leading Gregoire to consider an alternative.

The Associated Press reports:
Concerned about the bad economy and pressure on businesses, Gregoire is leaning toward giving away most of the pollution credits, rather than auctioning them off as environmentalists had hoped.
But other pieces of the plan may still move forward with broad agreement despite the economic situation. The article continues:
The governor’s proposed budget includes about $25 million for climate change, including money to add solar panels to three state prisons, increase the energy efficiency of public buildings and fund anaerobic digesters to reduce waste. There’s also money in the budget to increase vanpools.

The Climate Action Team, which Gregoire convened last year to come up with concrete ways to fight climate change, earlier this month called for more energy-efficient buildings, compact urban development, better collection of recycled materials, reduced driving and revised development rules to account for greenhouse gas emissions.

Janice Adair of the state Department of Ecology said the state won’t pursue some of those recommendations next year, such as giving tax credits to buildings that reduce energy use.

She said other groups or legislators may push for them, and some efforts, such as revising the energy code to reduce energy use, can still be done.

Some environmentalists say they understand the situation.

“It’s obviously a dismal budget situation,” said K.C. Golden, policy director with Climate Solutions. “We’re not expecting enormous public investment.”

He said there’s opportunity for private investment in energy-efficient buildings and through the cap-and-trade program.
However this plays out, it will be certainly be one of the issues that businesses and environmentalists will be keeping an eye on this session.

About that Viaduct in Seattle

State, county and city planners have narrowed down eight Viaduct options to two options. (And yes, there was also a ninth "hybrid" proposal introduced by reps of downtown and business groups that wasn't part of the evaluation process.)

Now the baton has been passed to Governor Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, and King County Executive Ron Sims to make a final decision, supposedly by the end of this month. That is, they'll share their decision with the Legislature. The Legislature will have to approve the plan.

And for some lawmakers, including Gregoire, that means all the options are still on the table.

So for anyone keeping track of who is saying what about which Viaduct options, here are two recent op-eds by Seattle-area legislators Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson and Rep. Ruth Kagi. Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Who's on first?

Last week House Democrats finalized committee assignments for the 2009 session. As you might recall, there will be a few new committees and some new committee chairs. We also are looking forward to welcoming a new crop of freshman legislators.

So for anyone looking to get a jumpstart on talking to the legislators who work on your favorite issues, here's your list of 2009 House Democratic Caucus Committee Assignments.