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Climate-change impacts ‘cut Washington state to its heart,’ Inslee says

Gov. Jay Inslee, a champion of action on climate change and an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, said global warming is an “assault” that will affect everyone in Washington and cut at the state’s heart, adding that it was “unbelievable we still have someone in the White House who denies this science.”

Inslee plans to unveil a suite of proposals to address climate change in the state, he said, on the heels of a recently released federal climate report that forecasts what Inslee described as “dire” impacts that would hurt the nation’s economy “worse than the last recession” and be permanent.

“We will present our effort to save the state from this peril in a couple weeks,” Inslee said in an interview Monday.

Inslee said the proposals will contain legislative and executive action, but declined to share more details.

“All will be revealed,” he said. “We know the public now understands inaction is not an option.”

Inslee said the content of the federal climate assessment was not a surprise – “all these illnesses our state will be suffering have been foretold over a decade ago,” he said – but that the report “caught people’s imagination” on warming’s effects and made clear “that’s it not a future scenario, it’s a present day challenge.”

The federal climate assessment was released Friday by President Donald Trump’s administration. It detailed impacts nationwide, and included a chapter specific to the Northwest. The report predicts climate change will worsen natural disasters, degrade infrastructure, disrupt agriculture systems and slice as much as about 10 percent from U.S. economic production by century’s end.

The Northwest can expect more drought, as well as extreme rain events, according to the report. Salmon could lose nearly one-quarter of their habitat, the snow-based recreation economy could drop by as much as 70 percent, and premium wine production could move elsewhere. Wildfire, landslide, flooding, heat impacts and some diseases are projected to increase.

Apples, salmon, mountain snow and wine – core to the Pacific Northwest’s identity – all face hardship, according to the report. As Inslee described it, climate change’s impacts “cut Washington state to its heart. It’s who we are.”

A warming planet threatens to derail other potentially expensive environmental efforts, too. Inslee convened a task force earlier this year to help save critically endangered southern resident killer whales, who spend much of their time in Pacific Northwest waters.

“We’re trying to recover orcas, and this report demonstrates it’s going to be very difficult. Water will be too hot for chinook salmon,” he said, referring to local orcas’ favorite food.

Inslee said the report makes clear that warming’s impacts span the state’s geography, economy and population.

“It hurts salmon in the northwest part of the state just like it hurts grape growers in the southeast corner of the state,” Inslee said. “It hurts older people with chronic pulmonary disease because of an increase in particulates from raging wildfires just like it affects asthma in 5-year-olds.”

It’s crucial to “decarbonize our economy,” Inslee said. But that’s not been politically simple, even in Washington state, where many residents see themselves as friends to the environment.

The Washington state legislature has failed to pass Inslee administration proposals to cap-and-trade emissions or tax carbon. Voters also rejected two initiatives that would have put a fee or tax on carbon. In a recent United Nations report, researchers described carbon pricing as a central tool in limiting global warming.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump’s administration has largely chided, ignored or undone climate action at the federal level. In 2017, President Trump announced he would remove the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, a plan in which world leaders agreed to take steps to limit warming. He tweeted skepticism at a grim United Nations special report on climate change. He told reporters Monday he did not believe aspects of his own administration’s recent climate assessment, which was produced by 13 federal agencies and leading climate scientists.

The Trump administration released the climate assessment Friday, when many Americans were shopping, watching football or spending time away from the news and with their families. Still, the report has been the subject of widespread media attention.

“What’s the day you want to bury a story on a weekday that’s better than Black Friday?” Inslee mused. “But you can’t hide from hurricanes, wildfires and melting glaciers. It didn’t work. It caught the nation’s attention.”

Inslee, who has not ruled out running for president in 2020, demurred when asked if he planned to run or if the president’s swipes at climate science made a campaign more likely.

“I think 2020 should be a referendum on climate change, and we have to have a president who embraces science rather than ignorance,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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