OAKVILLE, Grays Harbor County — Which sounds more unlikely: a bipartisan coalition raising revenue through carbon regulation or Republican lawmakers putting together a big-dollar water-projects bill in a cash-strapped budget year?
Both were talked about Tuesday at the Chehalis Tribe Community Center, as Gov. Jay Inslee stopped by on his tour across the state to discuss climate change.
Speaking to lawmakers and the Chehalis Basin Work Group, which is working to find solutions to regional flooding, Inslee suggested using carbon regulation to raise revenue. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers talked up their proposal for water projects that could likely cost $3 billion to $4 billion.
The GOP proposal would include projects to minimize flooding in the Chehalis River Basin, address stormwater runoff in the Puget Sound region and elsewhere, and deal with water-retention issues in Eastern Washington, according to Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.
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“The broad idea is a program that would address all the water concerns statewide,” Braun said before the meeting.
The proposal would come with ways to raise revenue for the projects, he added.
Braun said his goal of preventing flood damage in his district didn’t have to be mutually exclusive with Inslee’s climate-change agenda.
“Even if we don’t agree on all the topics, there’s plenty of agreement that we can work toward a solution,” he said.
An argument over climate change is “not a fight I’m looking to have,” Braun added. “I’m looking for ways to work together to solve the problem.”
Flooding and climate change
If Braun had wanted to argue over climate change, he had plenty of opportunity during Tuesday’s meeting.
Before the discussion, the Chehalis Basin Work Group gave a presentation on how flooding has repeatedly harmed the Chehalis River Basin — and that climate change would likely make it worse. The work group, first convened by former Gov. Chris Gregoire, will make recommendations to Inslee in November about how to reduce flooding and help local aquatic species.
Five of the largest floods recorded in the basin have occurred in the past 30 years, according to the work group’s presentation. A 2007 storm and ensuing flood caused more than $900 million in damage across the region, including the loss of nearly 100 homes and thousands of farmers’ livestock. That flood and three others — in 1990, 1996 and 2009 — closed Interstate 5, according to the presentation. Climate change could increase the water flows in those floods, according to the presentation.
That is because climate change could bring small upticks in heavy precipitation to the river basin, according to Guillaume Mauger, a researcher with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. Mauger added that drier summers due to climate change could cause wildfires that would burn up vegetation and leave the river basin more prone to flooding.
At the end of the meeting, Inslee floated the idea that the state could get new revenue for projects like flood control by regulating carbon emissions. A system like a carbon cap-and-trade program could even help fund a state Supreme Court mandate to add billions of dollars in state education spending, Inslee said afterward.
“The reason that I remain optimistic that we will be able to succeed in financing our McCleary [Supreme Court] decision with carbon pollution, is more and more legislators are understanding the connection,” Inslee said, “and the way to skin two cats or three cats with the same program.”
“I think that opportunity will open up some bipartisan ears,” he added.
Inslee’s task force on climate change — which is examining measures to reduce carbon pollution — will submit recommendations to the governor in November.
If the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus maintains its slim edge of the state Senate in November’s elections, it would take a bipartisan effort to pass any carbon-regulation proposal.
And Inslee’s idea found a chilly reception later on Tuesday from Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville in Adams County.
“He’s been obsessed with raising taxes since he was inaugurated,” said Schoesler, the Republican leader in the Majority Coalition Caucus. Schoesler added that a water-projects package would likely go to voters for approval.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, says he is open to talking about carbon regulation as a way to find revenue.
“I don’t have an opinion formed one way or the other,” said Hunter, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
“The governor’s certainly interested in doing it,” he added. “I think it behooves us to spend the time developing the details of what it might look like.”
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report. Joseph O’Sullivan: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.