Will Governor’s Climate Shortcut Destroy Opportunity for Bipartisan Agreement?

October 28, 2013

This morning, Governor Inslee will be signing a climate agreement with other west coast governors and the BC Premier. According to the Governor’s office and press reports, the agreement will cover:

  • Transitioning to clean modes of transportation, including actions to address fuels, cars and rail
  • Investing in clean energy and climate-resilient infrastructure, including actions to support energy efficiency and permit streamlining

These policy areas are the exact areas to be considered as part of the Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup (CLEW) process, which is still in the middle of analyzing policies and taking public comment.

What happens if the recommendations of the CLEW contradict the agreement signed by the Governor?

On Saturday, the Governor’s office belatedly sent an e-mail out promising the agreement is “consistent with what he said at the last CLEW meeting” and that “how these actions are taken remains to be considered by CLEW.” This, however, undercuts the entire purpose of the CLEW.

It could simply be that the agreement is only for show and is not binding. If that is the case, however, why risk undermining the CLEW process – which the governor called his signature achievement this year – for a symbolic gesture?

Indeed, the e-mail from the Governor’s office admits they kept the deal secret from legislators and only released the information after the media found out about it. The e-mail says “I apologize if news of the draft agreement reached you through the press, since our intent was to provide you with advance notice.” Existence of the agreement, to be signed on a Monday, was leaked on Friday. When exactly was “advance notice” to occur? This is nonsense and amounts to offering someone a cookie when caught with your hand in the jar.

If, however, the agreement is supposed to have meaning, it makes the CLEW process superfluous.

First, the policies included in the agreement are likely to include some of the most expensive and least effective approaches to cutting emissions.

For example, if the agreement is consistent with what the governor has already announced, it is likely to include a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). According to the admittedly flawed study from SAIC, the low-carbon fuel standard is the second most expensive and one of the least effective approaches to cutting carbon emissions. The LCFS has a minimum cost ten times as high as carbon reduction under California’s cap-and-trade system. There is simply no way to justify an LCFS.

A number of biofuel companies advocate such a policy. Their advocacy, however, is little more than an appeal for corporate welfare – enriching themselves at the cost of carbon reduction.

The only policy even more expensive is a zero-emission vehicle mandate. According to the SAIC report, the ZEV mandate costs $266 per ton of carbon emissions reduced – this is twenty-four times as expensive as the price of a ton of reductions in California.

If either of these policies is included in the Governors' agreement, it would completely ignore SAIC’s report.

The same can be said about any agreement which includes “investing in clean energy.” As we pointed out recently, spending money on renewable energy in Washington state yields tiny environmental benefits at very high cost.

If any of these policies are included in an agreement, then one wonders why we passed legislation, spent a year and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a report and took public comment if the governor is simply going to ignore that report and the process when it is convenient?

The CLEW process was designed to create a bipartisan agreement on climate strategy that could be brought before the legislature next year. Any meaningful Governors' agreement would commit the state to approaches without any effort to generate bipartisan legislative support. Having secretly negotiated a deal with other Democratic governors, the message is that Governor Inslee is willing to undermine the chance of a bipartisan agreement if a shortcut becomes available.

We will see what the agreement actually says. There doesn’t seem to be any way around the fact, however, that the secrecy of the agreement and inclusion of expensive and ineffective climate policies, have undermined the likelihood of meaningful outcome of the CLEW process.