The Gristle

Heating Up

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

HEATING UP: In what’s become an annual spring tradition—much like the filing for public office—another shattering milestone was achieved, with carbon dioxide readings in excess of 410 parts per million recorded this week at NOAA’s monitoring station in the Pacific. Carbon dioxide has set a a record high each year since measurements began. It stood at 315 ppm when record keeping began at Mauna Loa station in 1958. In 2013, concentrations of heat-trapping gases passed 400 ppm. Just four years later, the 400 ppm mark is no longer a novelty. It’s the norm. But unlike previous years, the effort to address climate change may seep strongly into that other tradition, the opening of the political season.

Initiative 1631—a carbon pricing proposal sponsored by a coalition of tribes and environmental and labor groups called the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy—is well on its way to gathering sufficient signatures to make the fall ballot, according to initiative sponsors.

The presence of a carbon tax on the ballot should create a talking point for every candidate on the ballot leading into the November election.

Last week, Bellingham City Council approved a resolution to implement a climate protection action plan that creates a climate action task force and aims to achieve 100 percent renewable energy goals citywide by 2035—with Council member Gene Knutson pushing back a little on the aspiration timetable. Whatcom County Council has similarly empowered a Climate Impact Advisory Committee of 11 members who may map out the county policy in response to the challenges of climate change.

Both governmental bodies are well aware that municipalities cannot achieve carbon-free energy goals so long as Puget Sound Energy, the region’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU), continues to include coal-generated power in the PSE portfolio.

“In many cases, PSE has been our partner as we’ve achieved carbon reduction goals,” Council member Michael Lilliquist commented recently. “But the reality is, as long as the electrons coming across the wires are from polluting sources, we cannot fully achieve our goals.

“Put simply, Bellingham cannot reach that goal unless PSE is providing electricity that is aiming for that same goal.”

State regulators this month also stepped up their own climate activism when they urged three of the largest utilities—including PSE—to reconsider the carbon-emission costs of producing electricity from coal and other fossil fuels. The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission directives were sent to Puget Sound Energy, Avista Corp, and Pacific Power, which collectively serve more than 1.47 million state customers from a mix of coal, natural gas and renewable power. The commission asked the utilities to begin a more aggressive, market-based transition to shutter the Colstrip Generating Plant, a major Montana coal plant in which IOU has an ownership stake.

Meanwhile, in perhaps the most aggressive move, King County filed a lawsuit that attempts to exact a price from the continued denials of energy companies to downplay and discredit scientific warnings about the risks of global warming.

King County’s Superior Court lawsuit names BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell as defendants, and seeks financial compensation to help pay for the costs of coping with sea-level rise, extreme weather and other effects of climate change. The lawsuit faults the oil companies for intentionally producing and marketing massive quantities of fossil fuels they know will exacerbate global warming, and alleges this conduct amounts to “a continuing trespass onto county property,” the Seattle Times reported.

If successful and joined by other Washington counties, the King County lawsuit could create a fund to assist with the public infrastructure costs in response to sea-level rise and weather events associated with global warming—in effect, an ad hoc carbon pricing effort.

The interior states and energy industries have pushed back, filing a lawsuit this week against Washington and the decision of its regulatory agencies to reject permits for a coal export facility on the Columbia River.

The Washington Department of Ecology denied the project a water-quality permit last fall, saying there were too many major harmful effects associated with the $680 million Millennium Bulk Terminals-Longview project, including air pollution, rail safety and vehicle traffic.

Six Western states—including Wyoming, Montana, Kansas, Utah, South Dakota, and Nebraska filed a joint amicus brief, arguing for project backers and saying the case has broad implications for the export of commodities.

But primarily the lawsuit illustrates how much capacity energy industries and their trade group allies have to burn up enormous sacks of money in their attempts to smash open a port on the Pacific coast for energy export—for if agencies like Ecology and the Department of Natural Resources are empowered to issue permits, then by the same power and law they are authorized to deny permits.

Into this ferment, candidates file for office this week.

Among them are Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen, the 42nd District stalwart of energy industry interests and chronic critic of climate science. Arrayed against him in an August is Pinky Vargas, an employee of PSE who helped draft the Bellingham City Council’s carbon-free energy aspirations. And Tim Ballew II, the Lummi tribal leader at the forefront of halting the shipment of coal at Cherry Point.

In the 40th District, clean energy advocate Alex Ramel squares off against Swinomish Indian Tribal Community member Debra Lekanoff, along with Whatcom County Council member Rud Browne and progressive Skagit rancher and lifelong Democrat Tom Pasma, in what appears will be a bruising contest on the left for the state House of Representatives.

At the center of it, energy and the future of energy policy for our region.

Smoking Crow
Past Columns
Bungle in the Jungle?

May 23, 2018

Home Run

May 9, 2018

State of the County

May 2, 2018

Symptoms of Pain

April 25, 2018

A Last Ditch Effort

April 18, 2018

Much ADUs About Nothing

April 11, 2018

The Sin of Sinclair

April 4, 2018

All Thumbs on the Scale

March 28, 2018

The Boundaries Between Us

March 21, 2018

Dirty Deeds

March 7, 2018

Sunshine Storm

February 28, 2018

A Public Education

February 21, 2018

Power Play

February 14, 2018

Neutral Ground

February 7, 2018

The Nature of the Emergency

January 31, 2018

‘Fix’ fumbled, punted

January 24, 2018

New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Events
Today
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

The Gun Show

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Aliens

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Everson Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Ski to Sea Block Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

It Can't Happen Here

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Baywatch and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Beachside Barbecue

8:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Trove Web
Tomorrow
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

The Gun Show

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

The Aliens

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

It Can't Happen Here

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Baywatch and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Birch Bay Kite Festival

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Public Sail

1:00pm|Squalicum Harbor Marina

Mark Twain Bench Dedication

3:30pm|Village Books

Artist Talk with Sheila Klein and Ries Niemi

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

The cutting edge

4:00pm

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Village Books Trove Web
Sunday
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Birch Bay Kite Festival

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Lummi Island Artists' Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

The big picture

7:30am

Ski to Sea Race

7:30am|Mt. Baker to Marine Park

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

Historic Fairhaven Festival

10:00am|Historic Fairhaven

Langar in Lynden

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Majestic

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Trove Web