Op-Ed: Washington families and businesses can’t afford ‘cap and trade’

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  They also say the devil is in the details.  Both timely axioms ring true when discussing Gov. Gregoire’s “cap and trade” proposals moving through Olympia.

Let me start off by saying that I support cleaning up and protecting our environment.  I live and work in a region that has seen one of the world’s most toxic environmental cleanups.  When people talk about environment and energy issues, these are things that we in the Tri-Cities know in intimate detail.

That’s why the cap and trade idea has intrigued me from the beginning.  It’s also why I started to familiarize myself with the intended and unintended consequences of this proposal.

The cap and trade legislation is an idea put forth by the Western Climate Initiative, which currently includes seven Western states and four Canadian Provinces.  The idea is to cap the amount of carbon emitted in the state from businesses producing over a certain amount.

Companies will have to purchase “allowances” from the government for the right to emit greenhouse gasses.   If companies don’t have enough allowances to cover their emissions, they will have to pay a fine up to $10,000 per day or try to purchase unused emission credits from other companies.

While this doesn’t sound too menacing so far, a closer look reveals questions and uncertainty that are job-killers for our businesses which compete on a global scale.

For example, the secondary market created to buy and sell the emissions credits would be under the rules of interstate commerce and therefore under the purview of the federal government.  Washington state would have no legal authority over a business from California selling or buying credits to or from a company in Washington.

There’s also nothing to prevent an investment firm from buying up excess allowances from businesses in our state and then selling them to states like California or Oregon. Washington companies could be put out of business in a heartbeat simply because additional, necessary emissions credits are too expensive or unavailable.

Furthermore, the process of “reporting emissions” and all of the subsequent options available for businesses cost money.  These costs will be passed on to consumers resulting in higher energy, gas, utility, and goods and services bills for struggling families.

We also heard businesses testify in the House Ecology and Parks Committee that if the cap and trade proposals are put into law, they would have no choice but to pack their bags and relocate.

Cardinal Glass, which operates three plants in Washington and employees over 500 people, manufactures energy efficient glass and solar panels.  During committee testimony, a company official said:

“Glass manufacturing is an energy-intensive process.  There are no alternative manufacturing techniques and there are no viable technologies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide within our industry.  We will look to relocate our facilities to other states not bound by the restrictions of the Western Climate Initiative.”

At a time when jobs are scarce, can we afford to implement policies that will force family-wage jobs to other states?  It is much easier to keep existing jobs rather than create new ones.  How many blue- and white-collar jobs – jobs that support the Tri-Cities region – will we lose to create one green-collar job?

I think we can all agree that the environment is worth protecting, but at what cost?  Washington is already one of the cleanest states in the Union.  We have stringent, effective environmental policies in place.  We have cheap, abundant, clean hydropower and our state’s emissions only account for three-tenths of one percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses!   We are truly the envy of every other state in the nation.

During committee testimony, a supporter of the governor’s cap and trade proposal said this: “There will be pain; there will be winners and losers; there will be economic displacement.”

Does that sound like something our state’s economy, our employers and our families can afford right now?  We’re losing jobs left and right.  I believe now is not the time to create policies that raise consumer prices, cost our state jobs and increases regulatory and financial burdens on our businesses and hard-working families.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, represents the 8th Legislative District and serves on the House Technology, Energy and Communications Committee.  He has over 34 years’ experience in the nuclear industry.

State Representative Larry Haler, 8th Legislative District
122H Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
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