Internal Administration E-mails Show Effort to Hide Pacific Coast Climate Agreement from Legislature

January 23, 2014

Last week Governor Inslee sent a letter to the legislature, reproaching them for comments about the potential cost to consumers of a Low-Carbon Fuel Standard. Since he has not outlined his plan, he argued, it is impossible to estimate costs.

He also said it was "offensive" to imply that, "I have in some way been hiding my intentions." He suggested, "If in the future you have questions about my intentions, I suggest you ask me."

That apparent openness, however, is the opposite of the Governor's approach just three months ago, when he secretly negotiated the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy with other west coast Governors and the BC Premier.

Not only did the Governor not inform the legislature about the agreement, e-mails from the Inslee Administration show the Governor and his staff intentionally hid and misled the legislature about climate policy. Washington Policy Center obtained the e-mails through a public disclosure request.

Weeks before the announcement, former State Ecology Director Jay Manning, who had been hired to help put the event together, was working to find people to speak at the announcement of the agreement. E-mails reveal that just days before the announcement, Manning told Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish not to tell anyone about the event and to, "Please keep this very close," since the event was secret. Manning would later request $45,000 in October alone for his work on the project.

The Inslee Administration’s secrecy, however, didn't apply to environmental groups like Climate Solutions and the Washington Environmental Council, both of which were brought in early in the planning.

As word of the announcement began to leak out, the Inslee Administration debated what to tell the bipartisan group of legislators working on climate policy known as the CLEW - the Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup.

Keith Phillips, the Governor's policy advisor on climate change asked on the Friday before the Monday announcement, "When do we tell the CLEW? I was thinking on Monday, but they may know much of it by then."  The original plan, in other words, was to tell the legislature nothing until the very day of the announcement.

The Governor's lobbyist, Ted Sturdevant suggested sending little information in advance, giving more detail on the date of the event. Strudevant asked, "How are you thinking we characterize this commitment relative to the not yet finished CLEW process?" The Inslee Administration would later claim the Governor intentionally ensured the Action Plan was not in conflict with the CLEW. The e-mails demonstrate, however, they only considered how to justify the agreement and its impact on the bipartisan CLEW after the agreement had already been finalized.

The Governor even set up a call with legislators and staff for the same time as the agreement’s press conference, which he then skipped.

Jim Troyer, Chief of Staff of the Majority Senate Caucus, e-mailed the Governor's office after seeing the announcement of the Pacific Coast Action Plan press conference, asking, "Aren't we supposed to be having a phone call with the Governor at 4?" The terse response from the Governor's office was, "The Governor is not on the 4:00 call."

At the time it was signed in October 2013, in a post titled “Will Governor’s Climate Shortcut Destroy Opportunity for Bipartisan Agreement?”, we noted that signing the Pacific Coast Action Plan was likely to destroy the opportunity for any meaningful climate policy in Washington state. The intentional secrecy that surrounded that agreement undermined any hope of coming to agreement among lawmakers on elements of climate policy.

Now, as the Governor laments that legislators believe he is "hiding his intentions," he need only look back three months to understand why there is so little trust when it comes to these issues.

The result for the environment is further delay and debate.