While Gov. Jay Inslee has made climate change his signature issue in the lead-up to a potential Presidential campaign, state Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, believes the governor’s proposals shouldn’t be the only option on the table when it comes to clean energy.
“I've always found that whenever you lead with innovation and incentive you get better result,” DeBolt said, following the release of his multi-pronged plan to address climate issues.
DeBolt has emerged as a GOP leader on climate in the Legislature, calling for an approach more heavy on “carrots” than “sticks.”
Following the defeat of a carbon-pricing initiative in November’s election, Inslee has released a slew of bills addressing the issue from other angles — gradually ending fossil-fuel power from utilities, enforcing a clean fuel standard for vehicles, eliminating hydrofluorocarbons and crafting tough energy-efficiency rules for buildings.
Rather than mandates, DeBolt wants to offer incentives. His plan would reward companies that invest in carbon reduction — which could include a broad range of activities from forest health management, to electric vehicle charging stations, to efficiency. The plan also offers tax incentives for utilities that work to bolster clean energy, and it prohibits future production of energy from sources that aren’t carbon-neutral — without restricting production that’s currently in place.
The proposal, House Bill 1226, is designed to make Washington cleaner without the economic hardship Republicans believe will be caused by Inslee’s mandates. DeBolt said human-caused carbon emissions can’t be pinpointed as the single driving factor behind climate change, pointing to natural occurrences like wildfires and volcanoes that also have an effect on the climate, nor did he detail whether he believes climate change will have the catastrophic impacts many scientists are predicting.
“You don't have to be a climate denier to like my bill, and you don't have to be a climate enthusiast to like my bill,” he said. “There's room for all kinds of beliefs, but I do think that if this is a priority of the people of the state of Washington — and I believe it is — then let’s do it in the least intrusive way that does the best job.”
The incentives in DeBolt’s bill, he said, would cost the state about $83 million over the first 10 years it is phased in. He believes that the carbon reduction would be robust.
“It's significant, and the thing is, you don't have to wait (for mandates to kick in),” he said.
DeBolt reiterated his criticism of the carbon fee proposal, saying it would penalize businesses and consumers without necessarily reducing pollution.
“You continue to pollute, but you're just going to have to pay for it,” he said. “That doesn’t reduce carbon, that creates bureaucracy.”
One of the most important components of the bill, DeBolt said, is forest management. He said forest fires caused 22 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions last year, and 40 percent in 2017. His bill would incentivize forest thinning, reducing the fuel that allows wildfires to spread, planting of new trees to sequester carbon and harvesting of old trees to lock in their carbon storage.
“If you're really gonna tackle carbon, then you have to adapt,” he said. “Part of that is that you manage the forest.”
The bill also provides incentive for carbon capture programs. It’s designed to allow utilities to continue high levels of energy production.
“We have a real problem coming our way in Washington state, and that's baseload energy,” DeBolt said. “They're shutting down all of our power plants, and they're not planning for the future.”
This isn’t the first time DeBolt has proposed these measures. He’s brought forward similar proposals for the last three years, without success. He admitted that it will face an uphill battle, given Democrats’ increased majorities and Inslee’s focus on his own climate agenda.
“Is there space for it in a one-party controlled state with a governor who's running for president on a climate platform? I don’t know,” he said.
DeBolt’s proposal, he said, is likely to be sidelined until it’s apparent that Inslee’s proposals will not pass, at which point Democrats may give it consideration. He added that he’s not necessarily opposed to all of Inslee’s climate ideas.
“There are points that are valid and need to be explored,” he said. I'm open, I'm reading, I'm learning.”
Meanwhile, Inslee hasn’t yet said whether any of DeBolt’s ideas could fit within his climate agenda either.
“Gov. Inslee welcomes any thoughts on how to defeat climate change and create more of
a clean energy economy,” said Inslee’s deputy communications director Tara Lee. “He has not had a chance to review Rep. DeBolt's proposal, but welcomes all voices to the discussion of this very important issue.”
The first hearing on DeBolt’s bill will take place Monday in the House Committee on Environment and Energy.
Editor’s Note: Richard DeBolt is an employee of Lafromboise Communications, Inc., the parent company of The Chronicle.