This economic crisis is the right time to position Washington to be a leader in solving the challenge of climate change, argues Gov. Chris Gregoire. She urges the Legislature to take steps now that will keep the state on the cutting edge of responsible environmental stewardship.

RECENTLY in Copenhagen, scientists heard the startling news that climate change is happening even faster than predicted. We’re seeing the devastating results here — two 100-year floods in the past two years, droughts, changes in snow pack and rainfall, and more.

I understand it’s hard to look past the current economic crisis. But when we do, we see a Washington that can lead the nation and world in reducing harmful greenhouse-gas pollution that threatens our environment, our economy and our way of life.

We’re already off to a good start.

Take Kenworth Truck Company in Kirkland for example. They took a risk and developed cleaner, fuel-efficient delivery trucks. Recently, the company reported its largest hybrid truck order in history for 185 diesel-electric tractors and hybrid trucks.

    Most Read Stories

Cannon Power Group just announced it’s expanding its wind farm near Goldendale in Eastern Washington, creating jobs and developing a clean source of renewable energy to power 250,000 homes.

Washington is home to entrepreneurs making biofuels with homegrown crops and algae found in the Puget Sound, as well as companies like Itron in Liberty Lake, which are already global leaders in technology solutions for the smart power grid that will feed our transformation to a clean, green energy future.

That’s innovative and smart. That’s Washington’s people powering Washington’s economy.

We must continue to innovate. We cannot take the road that the automakers took. America’s auto industry was historically a hotbed of innovation. However, that innovation waned, and all connected with the auto industry suffered severe consequences.

That’s why I recently urged lawmakers to pass legislation that will:

• Bring us through the current crisis better prepared than ever to compete nationally and

globally.

• Speed up our transition away from fossil fuels like coal and oil to renewable energy like

wind and solar.

• Require coal-fired power plants operating in the state to eliminate emissions of

greenhouse gases or be fully carbon neutral by no later than 2025.

• Develop a “West Coast Green Highway” to accommodate fully electric, zero-emission

vehicles and those powered by alternative fuels.

• Reduce traffic and tailpipe pollution in the state’s most populated areas.

• Work with our new partners in the other Washington to create national greenhouse-gas-reduction programs that don’t harm our Washington.

By acting now, we will declare our energy independence and create job growth that the world will envy. When this recession ends, Washington must be ready to take new, bold steps to address climate change. We can’t let fear drive us into inaction that we and future generations will regret.

President Obama is already working with Congress to develop a national cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gases — a most effective and efficient way to reduce harmful emissions.

By enacting a strong bill now, Washington will be positioned to influence the national discussion on climate change, and protect our state’s vital interests — which include our natural resources, our businesses and jobs.

Last year, Washingtonians sent $16 billion overseas to buy fossil fuels. Instead, we can invest those dollars in Washington jobs, clean energy, businesses and families. Every $1 billion that Washington residents spend here generates 6,300 jobs.

Washington didn’t have any wind farms in 2000. Today we are the nation’s fifth-largest producer of wind energy. That’s innovation. That’s leadership. That’s the competitive edge.

Now we need a strong climate action bill from this year’s Legislature to grasp the opportunities that await us.

Chris Gregoire is governor of Washington state.