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Rural WA Gets a Voice in Carbon-Pricing Legislation

Worsening wildfires are a concern if Washington state lawmakers don't find ways to give businesses more incentive to reduce carbon emissions. (LDELD/Flickr)
Worsening wildfires are a concern if Washington state lawmakers don't find ways to give businesses more incentive to reduce carbon emissions. (LDELD/Flickr)
February 2, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington state Senate is considering a bill outlined by Gov. Jay Inslee that would make polluters pay – and use the money to invest in clean jobs and keeping natural resources resilient.

Senate Bill 6203 would tax carbon polluters, with the funds used to speed up the state's transition to clean energy, and to invest in projects to manage water and forest resources.

Russ Vaagen, CEO of Vaagen Timbers in Colville, says that investment is key. He thinks the legislation could turn restoration projects, like clearing brush and other wildfire fuels, into boons for rural communities.

"What we'll really create is an economic engine that is able to take the byproduct of all this effort that needs to be done, and it will pay for itself eventually,” he says. “But we need to get the kind of investments that they're talking about with this legislation to get that started."

Vaagen says restoration is necessary to improve forest health and reduce the severity of wildfires.

Cap-and-trade programs have been floated by the governor, legislature and ballot initiative in recent years, but haven't succeeded. During last year's session, four carbon tax bills were proposed – and none made it out of committee.

On the Yakima City Council, Councilwoman Carmen Mendez says the need to pass a bill to fight climate change has become painfully apparent. She says the wildfire smoke made it hard to breathe in Yakima last summer – the first time in her life she remembers it being that bad.

She adds the reduced snowpack from warmer winters also threatens people's way of life.

"That's going to create a difficult time not only for our farmers, but for our economy,” she says. “This is an ag-based economy and every community member depends very heavily on making sure that we have enough water for our crops, because that's how everybody survives here."

Doug Reed is the fifth generation president and owner of Green Diamond Resource Company, a forest products business in western Washington. He's convinced this legislation could spur the timber industry to work on solutions to the warming climate.

"Really, if there's incentive for landowners to store more carbon on the landscape, they'll figure out ways to do that, and you see that happening,” says Reed. “People will at some point make the calculations – is the carbon that's stored in these trees more valuable as sequestered carbon, or is it more valuable as a wood product?"

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA