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Feisty Citizens Crowd Seattle's Oct. 23 Climate Action Hearing

"You can't make money off a dead planet." -- Whidbey Island resident

This and other equally pithy comments were presented to Governor Inslee's Climate Legislative Workgroup (CLEW) on October 23.

More than 650 Washingtonians gathered at Seattle’s Bell Harbor Center on a foggy Wednesday night to give the CLEW panel their ideas for how Washington State can met its aggressive goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The 450-person room was standing room only, and was filled with a sea of yellow Sierra Club Beyond Coal shirts. Governor Inslee's Climate Legislative Executive Workgroup listened for 3 hours to public testimony on the need for strong action on climate. Each speaker was allocated two minutes to speak, and there was no ignoring the giant stopwatch projected before the podium.

A passionate crowd of vocal citizens that included parents, students, professors, politicians, small business owners, activists, retirees, farmers and fishers offered a wide smorgasbord of ideas to the panel. Suggestions ranged from improving fuel emissions standards to establishing a carbon tax (as in British Columbia), shutting down proposed coal export and Baaken oil train terminals, improving energy efficiency in buildings, planting more trees, offering tax incentives for solar energy, investing in public transportation and improving the infrastructure of bike paths and streets.

Many commentators questioned the logic of reducing greenhouse gases at home while shipping fossil fuels abroad by expanding oil and coal export terminals.

“Passing good climate policy here will be meaningless if we allow Washington to become a way-station for fossil fuel exports,” said city Council member Mike O’Brien. “I know that the export question is not your task here today, but it’s fundamental to our ultimate goals. Do not allow fossil fuels to be exported from our state.”

Carlo Voli, an environmental activist with Seattle350 and Rising Tide Seattle said, “It would be like somebody trying to end their addiction to drugs while still dealing drugs to other parts of the world."

On the topic of coal export terminals, the Governor noted to EarthFix: "I have insisted that our Department of Ecology evaluate the carbon pollution that would come from the coal if we were to ship it to China and the reason for that is that that carbon pollution ends up in our water. It doesn’t matter where it’s burned, it ends up in Puget Sound."

The Colstrip coal plant in Montana, one-third owned by Puget Sound Energy, was another major topic of discussion. At least 12 people testified specifically about the need to retire Colstrip.

Governor Inslee acknowledged that Colstrip has to factor into Washington State's calculations: "The first thing people have to understand is in our assessment of carbon pollution we take into consideration the carbon pollution generated by the coal that produces our electricity so when we’re getting coal fired electricity from Montana we’re figuring that under our tent."

Atmospheric Sciences Professor Dan Jaffee echoed the concerns of many. “The CO2 emissions from the Colstrip power plant alone are more than 21% of the emissions for the entire state of Washington, including all sources. These emissions make a substantial contribution to global warming. “

Rob Smith, Northwest Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association, connected Colstrip to depletion of Seattle’s hydroelectric power supply.

“North Cascades National Park is home to one third of all glaciers within the Lower 48 states and they are all in retreat due to the warming climate. That means less water and earlier runoff into Ross Lake reservoir, making it more difficult to balance recreation, fish runs and power generation. Customers of Seattle City Light rely on 24% of our electricity from the Ross power house,” Smith testified.

“The huge Colstrip coal-fired power plant in Montana, one-third owned by Puget Sound Energy, contributes to the carbon load in the atmosphere which ultimately melts our snowfields and glaciers here in Washington.”

Several speakers called for investments in renewable energy. Tyler Comings of Synapse Energy Economics reported on a jobs study commissioned by the Sierra Club. The Synapse study found that wind power and energy efficiency projects would produce 40-50 percent more Washington State jobs than natural gas per unit of energy (as measured in average megawatts). Solar energy projects showed the most promise: The study projected that twice as many jobs would be generated by small scale rooftop solar energy projects as for large scale utility solar project due to the local labor and supplies required.

“We’re talking about recapturing dollars that were previously leaving the state,” Comings said. “Transitioning off of out-of-state coal could mean less money leaving the state; more investment in local, clean energy; more Washington jobs; and major reductions in carbon emissions.”

Brian Grunkeyemer, Co-Chair of the Energy Committee of the Washington State Chapter of the Sierra Club, advocated for three tactics to help achieve the state’s goals. “First, shut Colstrip. Any replacement power should come from a mix of renewables and conservation, though we may condone limited natural gas. Second, investigate a carbon tax. Yoram Bauman has some good ideas and polling data. Third, the Utilities & Transportation Commission is where the rubber meets the road in terms of fixing the electric sector. Giving the UTC a specific environmental goal and the teeth to require compliance is the best way to meet the CLEW’s goals in the electric sector.”

Eleven-year-old Zoe Foster testified on behalf of Plant for the Planet, a children’s advocacy group. “We need to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide by 2020. That’s 150 trees per person on Earth. 1 trillion trees will soak up ten million tons of carbon dioxide per year.”

And Rev. Robert L. Jeffrey, Sr. - Executive Director of “Clean Greens” an organic farm that serves city residents, raised concerns that the health effects of climate change disproportionately impact African Americans.

Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn advocated for expanding metro transit and rebuilding streets to support mixed use like walking and biking. “We should be exporting energy efficiency technology, not coal.” The Mayor urged the Governor’s panel to act decisively and without delay to curb greenhouse gas emissions. “We are the first generation to experience the effects of climate change and we are also the last generation to be able to do anything about it."