Let’s make progress toward climate-change issues

The OlympianFebruary 16, 2014 

Rainier Meadows

FILE - Mount Rainier National Park's wildflower meadows have seen an increased growth of sub-alpine firs growing at higher elevations on Mount Rainier possibly the result of higher temperatures and climate change, Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008. (The News Tribune file, 2008)

DEAN J. KOEPFLER — AP

Climate-change deniers have an ever-harder position to defend when icy snowstorms blanket Georgia, extreme cold freezes the Midwest, and widespread drought cuts water supplies, devastates agriculture and leads to more and bigger wildfires.

As scientists have been telling us for years, climate change doesn’t just mean the weather will be hotter; it means it will be wilder, less predictable, and with more intense hurricanes, typhoons and deadly tornadoes.

The consensus that climate change presents an enormous and complex global challenge might be growing, but so far it has translated into few agreements about how to respond. With the future of the planet and the existence of modern civilization at stake, we might expect urgency and a more cooperative spirit from state and federal lawmakers.

But even the Environmental Priorities Coalition — a passionate group of more than 20 environmental organizations — has lowered its expectations for progress from the Legislature. It is pressing only two bills this year that are, to any reasonable mind, moderate.

The first (House Bill 2347) would require some common-sense public protections governing the shipment of extremely flammable light crude oil by rail — an urgent need given the rapid increase in the number of oil-laden trains crossing our state. It also would assure the continued safety of Puget Sound and other waterways from oil spills during marine activities. Passed by the House, it’s going nowhere in the Senate, where Republicans prefer a competing bill that takes no action.

The second (HB 2465) would close a 65-year-old tax loophole originally intended for the forest industry now being unintentionally and inappropriately enjoyed by oil refineries.

We can’t think of anyone who is less in need of a $60 million per year tax break than big oil companies. Lawmakers should funnel that money into satisfying the state’s K-12 basic education obligation, or any number of other underfunded programs such as mental health, health care or transportation infrastructure.

And yet, Senate Republicans inexplicably won’t consider it. The tax exemption drives no economic benefit, creates no jobs in Washington and has no public policy objective.

Climate change is real. Washington needs legislators who understand that, and who are willing to compromise when necessary to make progress toward policies that stabilize or reverse ecological damage.

The democratic process in a progressive state such as Washington should deliver politicians willing to acknowledge and battle climate change. The state’s large environmental movement is resolute about making progress toward that goal in the next election cycle. Climate deniers and status-quo lawmakers in the Legislature should listen for their footsteps.

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