Republican Dino Rossi and Gov. Christine Gregoire both call climate change their top environmental priority, but they have vastly different views on how to combat the problem.
OLYMPIA — Republican Dino Rossi and Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire both call climate change their top environmental priority, but they have vastly different views on how to combat the problem.
Rossi says he believes the Earth is warming, but he’s not sure how much humans are to blame. Still, he says, it’s something the state should address — just in case.
He favors incentives over government regulations, calling for more clean energy and greater use of fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. He also wants to spend $15 billion to expand highways and reduce traffic congestion, which he argues would reduce emissions.
If global warming is not caused by people, “what’s the worst-case scenario?” he asked. “We’ve relieved congestion and cleaned up the environment.”
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Environmental groups, though, say expanding highways would actually make the problem worse.
Gregoire has no doubts that humans are a cause of global warming and that government can, and should, play a lead role in combating it.
She signed an executive order last year setting goals for greenhouse-gas reductions, warning that climate change could lead to “economic disruption, environmental damage and a public-health crisis.”
She also helped push through a law requiring the state to sharply reduce future emissions, and led efforts to have Washington join other Western states to combat global warming.
But the state hasn’t decided yet how to achieve those greenhouse-gas reductions.
State Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls, in Stevens County, said Rossi’s approach is best for Washington. “We’re strangled by over-government regulation,” said Morton, the ranking Republican on the Senate Natural Resources, Ocean and Recreation Committee.
Clifford Traisman, with Washington Conservation Voters, supports Gregoire’s view and called her “a champion” for the environment. “She’s passed almost every environmental priority we’ve brought forward to the Legislature,” he said.
Gregoire has long viewed environmental issues through the lens of state government.
She spent four years as director of the state Department of Ecology, the lead regulatory agency for environmental protection. She later became the state attorney general, enforcing environmental laws as the state’s chief lawyer.
As governor she’s appointed environmental leaders to key positions, including Jay Manning as the director of the Department of Ecology. Manning was a former president of the Washington Environmental Council.
Environmental groups have lined up behind her. The Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters have both endorsed her.
Rossi has earned a living buying and selling real estate. He served in the state Senate from 1997-2003, rising to become chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
His biggest supporter is the Building Industry Association of Washington, which has stridently opposed many state environmental regulations, including climate-change legislation.
The BIAW has spent millions of dollars on independent expenditures backing Rossi’s campaign.
No environmental groups have endorsed Rossi, but he’s dismissed that by saying such groups typically back Democrats. The lack of endorsements has no bearing on his concern for the environment, he says.
Rossi used to serve on the board of the Nature Conservancy, currently serves on the Mountains to Sound Greenway board and was recognized by Washington Conservation Voters when he served in the state Senate.
Both candidates have discussed several environmental priorities during the election.
Gregoire has touted her efforts to clean up Puget Sound and conserve water supplies. Rossi has talked about his plans to fix culverts blocking salmon habit and to protect state parks.
But the bulk of the debate has dealt with climate change.
Rossi says “there is still debate in the scientific community about the level of human impact on climate change.” However, scientists overwhelmingly believe humans contribute to global warming.
Rather than debating the cause, Rossi says he would work to reduce carbon emissions, particularly from transportation.
“The biggest source of pollution and carbon emissions is really from automobiles,” he said. “If this is really where you want to go, then that’s what we need to focus on.”
State research shows that transportation is the state’s single biggest source of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, representing almost half of all emissions. Rossi contends reducing congestion would go a long way toward solving the problem.
His campaign cited a state report estimating a proposed highway project in Spokane would remove “2.4 million pounds of carbon emissions a year.”
But the report his campaign referred to talks about reducing carbon monoxide, which doesn’t contribute nearly as much to global warming as carbon dioxide.
When asked for further documentation, the campaign referred to two additional reports. One was an Australian study that discussed reducing traffic through congestion pricing — a strategy that aims to get people off the highway by charging a fee when they drive.
When asked about that, Rossi’s campaign said he doesn’t support that approach.
The third study, done by the University of California, Riverside, indicates that reducing congestion could reduce carbon emissions. However, the co-author of the report, Kanok Boriboonsomsin, said it works only if steps are taken to prevent traffic from increasing.
Some research suggests widening highways can increase traffic because people who once avoided driving due to congestion start making more trips when the traffic is flowing better, he said.
Rossi contends increased use of hybrid cars, and research into electric cars, would take care of any potential problem with increased traffic. He proposes eliminating the sales tax on such vehicles for 10 years, and replacing the entire state government fleet with hybrids by 2015.
Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington state Transportation Center at the University of Washington, said he doesn’t see how Rossi’s plan to expand highways would significantly reduce carbon emissions.
“Just call it congestion relief, and mobility improvements. Don’t call it greenhouse-gas-emission reduction, because it really isn’t about that,” he said in an e-mail.
Gregoire points to two major steps she’s taken to address global warming.
One was a bill she signed earlier this year requiring the state to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. It also calls for, but does not require, cutting per capita vehicle miles traveled in half by 2050.
The law didn’t specify how the state would accomplish all those objectives, but required the state Department of Ecology to come up with a plan by Dec. 1 — after the election.
The law also set a goal of creating 25,000 “clean energy jobs” and ordered state agencies to figure out how to do that.
In addition, the state became a founding member of the Western Climate Initiative, a compact of seven Western states and four Canadian provinces that have set a regional goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
The compact is considering a cap-and-trade program in which government sets a limit on greenhouse gases, and businesses that can’t cut emissions to meet the cap could buy credits from companies that have achieved cleaner emissions.
Rossi contends that instead of requesting studies, he’s proposing concrete action. “She has no plan to do anything,” he said.
His campaign recently sent out a statement saying, “It’s great that [Gregoire] has set forth ‘goals.’ But don’t people deserve to know what she is going to do and how much it will cost to actually achieve those goals? Does Gregoire actually have any specific plans? If not, she’s just all talk and someone should finally call her out on it.”
Gregoire argues she’s taking a substantive, comprehensive approach to deal with climate change. And, she said, the state already has a two-year sales-tax exemption for fuel-efficient cars, starting in January, and is switching the state fleet to hybrids.
“Every idea [Rossi] has come up with, as small as they are, is already in place,” she said. “What we need is real leadership on global climate change.”
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org