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Guest column: Ilwaco mayor urges better plan to cut carbon emissions

By Mike Cassinelli

Ilwaco mayor

Published on November 1, 2017 3:17PM

Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli

Ilwaco Mayor Mike Cassinelli

Ilwaco’s port is at rick from sea-level rise and other threats associated with greenhouse gas emissions. A proposed citizens’ initiative aims to “put teeth into Washington’s decade-old promise to reduce carbon pollution.”

Luke Whittaker/Chinook Observer

Ilwaco’s port is at rick from sea-level rise and other threats associated with greenhouse gas emissions. A proposed citizens’ initiative aims to “put teeth into Washington’s decade-old promise to reduce carbon pollution.”

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Abundant fisheries are the lifeblood of llwaco, so I take a professional interest in cutting the carbon emissions that now are undercutting the ocean’s ability to produce seafood. I own a charter fishing operation and currently serve as mayor of llwaco.

Why do I care? Overheated river water killed half the sockeye salmon returning to the Columbia River in 2015. That year a warm-water “blob” in the ocean helped fuel a huge algae bloom that fouled some of our main fisheries with a neurotoxin called domoic acid. It caused job-destroying closures of Dungeness crab fishing up and down the West Coast. It shut down the popular razor clam harvest that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Washington’s outer coast. Hot seawater and rising carbon emissions aggravate the toxic blooms that close shellfish harvest areas nearly every year. The risks and damages just keep mounting. Ilwaco’s biggest private-sector employer is a fish plant that relies on city water from a forested watershed. That watershed is jeopardized by both logging and climate change.

Now a citizens’ initiative is being drafted that could put teeth into Washington’s decade-old promise to reduce carbon pollution. The measure needs improvement, both to cut emissions deeply enough and to avoid harming communities like ours. But the proposition wending toward Washington ballots in 2018 stands a decent chance of passing. It is already much better than the costly and ineffective carbon tax that voters rejected in 2016. That measure would have raised and given away about $1.7 billion a year in “rebates” and tax breaks: Boeing stood to receive hundreds of millions. Call me old fashioned, but I still think taxes should pay for necessary public services. If we levy a tax to solve a problem (like carbon pollution), isn’t that how we ought to spend the money?

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, a coalition led by labor, environmental justice, and conservation groups, is proposing a carbon price-and-reinvestment policy that’s worth a good look. It would raise about $1.2 billion a year initially and reinvest the money to reduce pollution, ease climate impacts, and mitigate economic consequences of carbon pricing on workers and businesses. A few percent of the revenues are reserved to aid workers who could lose their jobs if big polluters close shop to avoid the tax and energy-intensive businesses that could see costs rise. Administrative expenses are capped at 5 percent. After those expenses, the Alliance promises 70 percent of the money for clean energy and 30 percent for water and forest projects.

Carbon revenues might help us protect Ilwaco’s water supply. They could even help us build an efficient cold storage, which would save the cost and emissions from trucking our tuna all the way to Bellingham until it can be hauled back for processing. With some adjustments, this plan has potential.

Here are some suggestions.

• Provide a credible mechanism to achieve Washington’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) targets. The Department of Ecology’s latest recommended emission targets call for dropping to 1990 levels within the next three years, and cutting another 50 percent from there by 2050. An initial model forecast indicates that the Alliance plan (as expressed in this year’s H.R. 1646, a kind of legislative rehearsal for the ballot) would fall short of these targets. It could be adjusted to deliver. Deep emissions reductions are achievable, affordable, and necessary to protect healthy fisheries and waters. At a time when the ocean and climate are sliding across tipping points, why shoot to miss? Recommendation: Model emissions outcomes and adjust the proposed investment priorities (and complementary rules) until the plan looks likely to get the job done.

• Focus the money to achieve emissions targets at low costs. The proposed starting price of $15 per metric ton of is about 13.5 cents per gallon of gas. That’s about a quarter of existing fuel taxes (49.4 cents), yet it’s enough to drive transformative investments in a cleaner economy. But despite grasping that historic opportunity, so far the Alliance seems distracted, overlaying its investment plans with social and economic objectives (however noble or necessary) that don’t necessarily reduce emissions. Drafters have proposed to raise the carbon tax as much as 7 percent a year whenever emissions exceed goals. Is that escalation really necessary? It will provoke a fight, especially outside Seattle’s progressive metropolitan bubble. Meanwhile other states are achieving —and beating—their emissions targets with low carbon prices. Washington can too. Recommendations: Adjust investment plans to cut emissions without increasing the tax. Protect fuel-dependent people by locking in the $15 initial price for at least five years. Protect the most vulnerable by capping later price hikes in each county at the rate of average local wage increases.

• Protect rural communities. Much of rural Washington is poor, geographically remote, and worried that a carbon tax could drive up fuel costs. Outside the big cities, we rely on fuel-burning industries like fishing, farming, logging, food processing, construction, and transportation. Our goods, services, jobs and markets are hours away by road. Lacking big-city wealth, density, and viable alternatives to fossil fuels, most rural communities cannot readily “go electric.” This means many communities risk being locked out of investments under some criteria in the Alliance proposal, which favors electrification of transportation. Well, there aren’t many Teslas in llwaco. Electric machinery isn’t yet ready to catch our fish, work our forests, or haul our freight. To be frank, what’s to keep communities like ours from voting no? Recommendations: Start by making sure investments from carbon revenues will help rural people drive down their fuel bills (see recommendation 4 below). Allow rural leaders to define ingredients of a carbon pricing system we can live with, instead of asking us merely to endorse a policy baked in Seattle. Reserve 25 percent of carbon revenues for rural areas (roughly our share of Washington’s population). Exempt rural areas from any ban on investments in fossil-fuel burning projects, so long as they reduce emissions or build capacity to do so. For any labor standards that govern investments of carbon revenues, use a locally-prevailing wage: Poor rural communities with few jobs, low wages, and limited access to capital shouldn’t be excluded merely for inability to pay Seattle wages.

• Fund projects to improve fuel efficiency in both vehicles and commercial marine vessels. Transportation is the state’s largest source of carbon emissions—nearly half the total. Cost-effective and practical guidelines are needed to enable investments to reduce emissions from vehicles, marine vessels, tractors, and other mobile fuel-burning equipment. Recommendations: Facilitate investment by using simple, cheap “input and output” measures to confirm emission reductions in transport (instead of mandating costly “verified” technologies). For example, fuel purchase records, fuel flow meters, and biannual emission tests can prove emission reductions in vessels and trucks. Take advantage of existing policies that effectively provide a “budget” for emissions or fuel-consuming activities in some sectors, thus helping to ensure that Washington taxpayers get what they pay for when they invest to reduce emissions. Examples: limits on taxi licenses or truck licenses in some markets Catch Shares in some fisheries.

• Invest to reduce emissions from Washington-based vehicles and marine vessels, regardless of where their emissions occur. Many fishing vessels, trucks, buses, aircraft and other working vehicles routinely cross state boundaries. The Alliance has proposed language that prohibits investments to reduce any emissions that occur outside the state. Washington’s interests would be better served by maximizing emission reductions from these operations, regardless of their location. The main GHG, carbon dioxide, mixes freely across state boundaries, so the amount matters much more than the location. This geographic limit also disadvantages residents who buy fuel at home but burn much of it out of state. For example, Washington fishing vessels that operate mainly off Alaska or Oregon would lack access to carbon revenues to reduce most of their emissions. For them, qualifying for funds to reduce any emissions that occur within Washington would require costly record-keeping to demonstrate which fraction of their fuel is burned inside state boundaries. Recommendations: For Washington-based vessels and vehicles, eliminate language restricting carbon investments solely to projects that reduce emissions within the state. Explicitly permit investments that reduce emissions from vessels or vehicles owned by Washington individuals or entities, regardless of whether those emissions occur within the state.

These are just a few ideas to refine the Alliance’s plan to work for fishery-dependent communities like ours. The Alliance has made a decent start tackling a problem that matters to all of us, but they have their own priorities. Now it’s up to the rest of us to help shape that plan into a solution we can support (and live with). Time is short. Probably by the end of October, the window will close to adjust initiative language before filing. How to get involved? Join the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, which helped me learn enough to speak up.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mike Cassinelli participates in the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, a trade organization founded by fisheries leaders to protect livelihoods and seafood supplies from effects of unchecked carbon emissions. Learn more: infodcDqlobaloceanhealth.org.

Carbon revenues might help us protect Ilwaco’s water supply. They could even help us build an efficient cold storage, which would save the cost and emissions from trucking our tuna all the way to Bellingham until it can be hauled back for processing. With some adjustments, this plan has potential.


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