OLYMPIA — With wildfire season approaching, Gov. Jay Inslee used an annual exercise to push for more controls on carbon emissions, saying forest fires will get worse in Washington if the nation doesn’t cut greenhouse gases.
The state is facing what Inslee called “the three horses of the fire Apocalypse” — drought, heat and a beetle infestation that’s killing trees — and doubled its wildfire-fighting budget this year. The number of wildfires in Washington could quadruple by 2030 if steps aren’t taken to reduce carbon pollution and slow climate change, he said.
“I don’t want to have to be a governor that gets in one of these shake-and-bake bags as our response to forest fires,” he said, referring to the fire shelters he and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark had just deployed as part of their annual training for fire season.
On Monday, the Obama administration released goals for all states in reducing carbon emissions, and set the largest percentage reduction for Washington. Inslee said he supported the goal and considered it fair because the state already planned to make significant cuts in carbon emissions, in part by converting the state’s sole coal-fired power plant to natural gas.
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The state also will consider the potential for carbon pollution from Rocky Mountain states’ coal coming through Washington by train, which is then shipped to China and other Asian countries for burning in their power plants, he said. Coal exports from Washington ports could rise dramatically if the state were to allow a pair of loading facilities planned near Longview and Bellingham to be built.
Elected officials in Spokane and some other communities along the freight-train routes have concerns about increased traffic and possible pollution. Business and labor groups say the state should only look at the environmental impacts to the communities around the loading facilities when considering whether to approve the proposals.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was in Longview Wednesday to tour the Millennium Bulk Terminal site and promote plans to ship more of that state’s coal through Washington. Inslee said he welcomed Mead as “a tourist” and encouraged him to spend money on food and lodging, but said Washington would make its own decisions.
“We are going to consider the carbon pollution that comes from this coal wherever it’s burned,” he said. “This is a global system and when carbon is burned, it ends up in our water and makes our water more acidic.”
The governor and lands commissioner usually mark the start of fire season by completing the Work Capacity Test, necessary for visiting fire lines when wildfires break out. It involves walking a mile in under 16 minutes and properly deploying a fire shelter in 30 seconds. They both passed.