State Sen. Christine Rolfes sees ongoing need to tackle climate change

Climate change will likely emerge as one of the top five issues facing the Washington Legislature next year, predicts state Sen. Christine Rolfes of Bainbridge Island, a key leader in the state Senate.

Sen. Christine Rolfes

The issue is not going away, she told me, despite (or perhaps I because of) voter rejection of a billion-dollar climate change initiative on last week’s ballot.

“If you are in elective office and you are aware of threats to the climate and the future of the state, there is a moral imperative to do something,” she said, “even though this particular proposal didn’t pass.”

Still on the table are a multitude of ideas for clean power, cleaner transportation and greater energy efficiency, she explained as we sat down to coffee on Monday at a Bainbridge Island establishment.

The overwhelming vote against Initiative 1631 was not a vote against taking action on climate change, according to Sen. Rolfes. It was a message that voters want to take action in a different way. As chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, with its special focus on budget issues, she will play a key role in the passage of any climate-change measures. See Kitsap Sun, Jan. 6, 2018.

Some people are always going to vote against taxes, she noted, but the swing votes were from people concerned about the huge amounts of money involved, the so-called “loopholes” regarding who would pay the tax, or the uncertainties over how the money would be spent.

“I had people coming to me and wanting to know whether the Legislature could still do something,” she said. “They wondered, if they voted no, if they would be dooming the state to inaction.”

Even the oil companies, which spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat the measure, acknowledged that climate change should be addressed, she said. They were mainly arguing that this initiative was the wrong way to go.

In fact, many businesses across the U.S. have developed strategic plans for dealing with ongoing climate change. Among them are the oil companies, including BP with its plan for “advancing the energy transition” and Shell with its “Energy Transition Report.” Oil company officials have said they are willing to work with the Legislature for a better system than the one on the ballot.

Surveys have shown that a sizable majority of Washington state residents recognize that climate change is a problem exacerbated by greenhouse gases resulting from human activities. See Yale Climate Opinion Maps and Plan Washington among others.

“There is a feeling that climate change is our generation’s responsibility, and we need to act now to reduce carbon emissions,” Christine told me. “But there is also a recognition that we live in a democracy. People get to decide what path forward we should take. That’s where you need leadership to bring it all together.”

She anticipates that the Senate, House and Governor’s Office will present a package of climate-change bills — perhaps some of the same bills that failed to pass in the last legislative session, a time when the looming climate initiative complicated efforts for a legislative compromise.

Ideally, Democrats and Republicans can work together, she said, because compromise results in more “durable” solutions. “But that depends on Democrats maybe not exactly getting their vision and Republicans wanting to participate. If Republicans come out and say, ‘The voters have spoken; there is nothing to be done,’ then there will be nothing to compromise on.”

At least until now, climate change is recognized as a problem by most legislators, Democrat and Republican, said Rolfes, herself a Democrat. The one dead-end argument is when someone says that China and other countries are the real problem, so it doesn’t matter what we do in Washington state.

I asked Christine if she thought people might benefit from a deeper understanding of climate science or the consequences of global warming, sea-level rise and ocean acidification. She said she wasn’t sure.

We agreed that it might help if we could tell people how much their insurance rates will go up as a result of increasing fires, floods and hurricanes; how food prices will rise as droughts become more common; and which dangerous diseases are likely to spread to our region from the tropics.

Climate change is already affecting the ecosystem in the Puget Sound region and across the state as winter snowpack declines, glaciers melt and salmon struggle to survive warmer waters, she said.

“I don’t know what it is about Americans where we can’t see what is right in front of us,” she said. “We’re living the crisis.”

Since she assumed the job of helping to write the state budget, she sees demands for funding to address problems such as flooding in Southwest Washington, firefighting capacity in the forests and ecosystem protection in Puget Sound. Climate change is already affecting people in many ways.

“Some people have already thrown in the towel, saying climate change is coming our way, so let’s build more dikes and just move the houses,” she said. “We see this tension between building in resilience and trying to reduce climate change so that we don’t need to be so resilient.”

Either way, the personal and governmental costs are likely to keep going up until we can slow down the rate of climate change.

Among the state’s top priorities still facing budget writers are education and health care, including mental health and drug addiction. But climate change is not far behind, according to Sen. Rolfes.

Most of the climate change initiatives are not new, having been enacted into law previously or proposed as legislation. They could include:

  • Mandating and/or offering incentives for electric utilities to increase their renewable energy sources
  • A more modest fee on carbon emissions than proposed by Initiative 1631, or perhaps a cap-and-trade system previously proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee that would use market forces to limit future greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Tax incentives or rebates to install home-based solar and wind power generation
  • Tax incentives to purchase electric vehicles
  • Mandates to produce cleaner fuels such as by increasing the use of biodiesel and ethanol in gasoline.
  • Mandating increased energy efficiency in homes and consumer products

“What’s scary or sad is that we are now at the place where scientists say we have 10 years left to act on climate change, yet we have a federal government that won’t do anything,” she said.

As for the Legislature, it could all come down to leadership and political courage.

“There is the need to do something big and dramatic without hurting people,” she said. “There is also the need to keep plugging away at what we have been doing well all along.”

4 thoughts on “State Sen. Christine Rolfes sees ongoing need to tackle climate change

  1. Give me a plan, state the goal in the temperature and or the climate effects of the plan. Tell me how much it will cost, and how long until Earth is finally returned to the range of “perfection” that is the goal. While these climate alarmists are at it, please tell me at what time was climate perfection achieved. Is it the 1850’s 1700’s? 1900? How about during the dust bowl? How about during the last ice age, where Washington state was covered in glaciers?

    You see, climate change is a scam to fleece taxpayers out of TRILLIONS of dollars, for absolutely no benefit. The Earth is not in any danger from burning so called fossil fuels. The Earth IS in danger from power mad bureaucrats and politicians promising something they can never deliver. Just like “peace in our time” “the end of poverty” or “prosperity for all.”

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