As debate over a carbon policy for Washington heats up, the commissioner of public lands urges a strategy that invests in preservation and enhancement of forests, agricultural and aquatic lands, and rural economies.
Hilary Franz, the state commissioner of public lands, has stepped to the center of the carbon debate in Washington, calling for a strategy that invests in forests, agricultural and aquatic lands, and rural communities as a way to fight climate change.
She staked out her position in a letter to state legislative committee leaders in the House and Senate and in a climate-policy speech planned for Thursday in Seattle, urging lawmakers to adopt a carbon-reduction policy this year.
That policy should use revenue from a carbon tax or carbon cap to invest in natural landscapes that can reduce carbon pollution and also support rural communities that depend on farming, ranching, timber and shellfish production, Franz said in the letter.
Her initiative came just days before Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to announce his own carbon-tax proposal for Washington that could put the two elected leaders on a collision course. Inslee has called for using revenues from a carbon tax to help pay for school funding required under the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
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Inslee’s spokesman, Tara Lee, said Wednesday the governor appreciates Franz’s support for a carbon policy.
“Where the revenues go will be an ongoing discussion through the legislative session and likely beyond,” Lee said.
Rural communities are on the front lines of climate change, such as sea-level rise and increased wildfire risk, and would benefit from investments that secure and enhance the natural-resource economies and landscapes that have been their lifelines, Franz said Wednesday.
“What is very clear, front and center, is how much climate change is already here, and the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to manage these lands isn’t just for today, but for the future,” said Franz, who oversees 5.6 million acres of state forests, agriculture and rangelands, natural areas and aquatic lands.
Forestlands and agricultural lands are a critical part of the climate solution, Franz said, and must be preserved from encroachment by development. Such lands sequester carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
In addition to conserving land for timber and agricultural production and habitat for wildlife, people win too, by securing the critical natural supports they will need in a warming world, Franz said.
To do it, revenue from putting a price on carbon emissions could fund incentives for timberland owners to grow trees longer and bigger, and provide the money to permanently protect working forestlands and agricultural lands, Franz said.
Carbon revenue could purchase and transfer development rights, and buy conservation easements to preserve forests and agricultural lands at risk of development. And the money could also help pay for restoration of forestlands and soils to make forests and agricultural lands healthier and more productive, Franz said.
Her policy initiative brought praise from Doug Reed, president of Green Diamond Resource Company, a fifth-generation family-owned timber business founded near Shelton, Mason County, in 1890.
The company today has about 316,000 acres of timberland in Washington, primarily Douglas fir, typically cut on about a 43-year rotation, on average, Reed said.
The company already is engaged in carbon-credit deals in Oregon that pay the company to grow its trees bigger and longer, and Green Diamond would love to see similar opportunities in Washington, Reed said.
“At a certain price, carbon becomes more valuable than the tree,” Reed said. “People who own forests would love to feel there is some motivation to grow bigger, older trees, and would work hard to make it all work, at the same time being in the interest of shareholders.”
Mo McBroom, director of government relations for the Nature Conservancy of Washington, embraced Franz’s stance.
“You can reduce carbon emissions if you are smart about how you invest in the natural environment,” McBroom said. “Whether agricultural soils, or sequestering carbon in trees, investing in the landscape is a critical piece of a comprehensive climate policy.”
Washington’s Legislature has not approved carbon-pricing proposals in the past, and Washington voters rejected a carbon-tax initiative in 2016. Opponents have argue that putting a price on carbon would drive up costs for consumers and provide little benefit to the environment.
Backers of a carbon-price proposal — including the governor, tribes, and environmental groups — are all hopeful to get a plan passed this year, whether by legislation or initiative.
Washington is already late in adopting policies that help carbon pollution, Franz said.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are the highest they have been in at least 800,000 years, and climate change is affecting Washington in ways expected to intensify in the years to come, from sea-level rise to more frequent and intense storms and bigger, more frequent wildfires, according to a Climate Risk Assessment prepared for DNR by an independent team of climate experts.
“There is an urgency that we need to do something now. And we need to make sure of two things,” Franz said. “We need to reduce carbon, not continue to dig our hole deeper … And we need to be smart, and focus on our natural-resource economy, and recognize the importance of our natural-resource communities.”