Global Warming Issue
by Kathie Durbin, staff writer
Just when things seem to be settling into a routine and the flood of new bills (2,084 as of Friday) is slowing to a trickle, along comes global climate change.
For four weeks of this 15-week session, the issue barely came up as lawmakers delved into the session's leading topics: health care access and education reform.
Then, on Feb. 2, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported from Paris that evidence of the warming of Earth's climate is now "unequivocal" and human activity "very likely" to have been a major contributor.
Five days later, environmentalists crowded into the Senate Democratic Caucus room to hear Sen. Erik Poulsen, a Seattle Democrat, unveil a tough new set of proposals to reduce the state's contribution to global greenhouse gases. Despite the dire nature of the topic, the event had the feel of a celebration.
"We need to be bold and decisive," Poulsen said.
"Washington state is going to face the inconvenient truth that human activity is a contributing cause of global warming," declared Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown.
"This is a very, very big day," said Jay Manning, director of the Department of Ecology. Much of the work the state has done to protect fish and wildlife habitat could be undone if warming trends are not reversed, he said. "Salmon recovery won't happen if we don't have water in the streams."
"If we don't act now, we'll be the first generation in the history of the U.S. who passed on to the next generation a lower quality of life," said King County Executive Ron Sims, who has proposed even stiffer controls on fossil fuel emissions for the state's most populous county.
Gov. Chris Gregoire had been silent on the issue. But within two hours of Poulsen's event, she announced that she would sign an executive order calling for reductions in "climate pollution," in effect making one of Poulsen's goals her own.
By the end of the day, even the Republican minority had cobbled together a statement of support for an "environmentally sound future," promoting alternative fuels and hydropower.
The one key player not on board was House Speaker Frank Chopp. He noted that environmentalists had not listed climate change as a top legislative priority for 2007. "We're focusing on the agenda we can actually pass," he said.
As lead sponsor of Poulsen's bill and vice chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Sen. Craig Pridemore of Vancouver will lead the Senate effort to get climate change legislation passed this year. But even Pridemore, a Democrat, said he was surprised at how quickly the issue muscled its way onto the legislative agenda. "It is an issue that we have discussed for months," he said. "I think the release of the climate change report did have a major impact."
If there's a moral to this story, maybe it's the one from that 1990s bumper sticker. You know the one: "Nature bats last."
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