Washington Governor Defies Legislature on Warming

Published August 1, 2009

Instead of following in the footsteps of Washington legislators who refused to approve a cap-and-trade program restricting greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) has issued an executive order implementing the program.

“I wanted cap-and-trade. I didn’t get it,” the governor explained to the Los Angeles Times.

So on May 21 Gregoire signed Executive Order 09-05, putting the state’s Department of Ecology in charge of implementing much of the Western Climate Initiative, a proposed regional plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions, which will affect operations and costs in a wide range of industries from electricity to forestry.

Gregoire’s order pushes for vehicle emission reductions by 2010, creation of benchmark emission levels and cap-and-trade goals for each industry within the state, and implementation of a plan mirroring California’s low-carbon fuel standards.

Questionable Legal Authority

“This executive order raises some policy concerns,” said Jocelyn McCabe, vice president of communications for the Association of Washington Business. “We’ve heard from some of our members on it, …  and we’re looking at whether the Department of Ecology is able to undertake those actions in absence of legislation.”

The executive order, which goes into effect immediately, will likely stand at least until January, when the legislature next meets.

Even if the order is found in compliance with the law, some question the ethics of the governor’s action.

“Did she overstep her bounds? There are two ways to answer that. The first is legal, and I don’t know the answer to that,” said Todd Myers, environmental director for the Washington Policy Center. “The second is policy-wise, and there’s no question that’s the case. Her party controls both chambers, … and they still wouldn’t pass it. When you’re pushing policy over the wishes of people in your own party, I think that’s very dangerous.”

Not Enough Time?

Gregoire spokesperson Laura Lockard said the legislature’s failure to pass the environmental initiative was due to time constraints and not reflective of weak political or ideological support.

That’s “nonsense,” Myers said in response, recalling how Gregoire testified in committee on the bills, wrote numerous opinion pieces to the media, and “put on a full court press” to ensure the initiative’s legislative priority.

If the legislature wanted to pass it, “they would not have let the time run out,” Myers said.

Failed Elsewhere

Myers’ guess was the legislature disdained the notion of ceding so much authority to the Department of Ecology. Potential legal challenges to that aspect are looming, he said, but they could take months to resolve.

“Even if this is legal and even if the legislature does agree with it, it won’t work,” Myers said. “Cap-and-trade … has failed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in Europe and other places it’s been tried. It just costs a lot of money and puts a burden on the economy at a time when the economy is already suffering.”

Cheryl K. Chumley ([email protected]) is a 2008-09 journalism fellow with The Phillips Foundation.