Senate Democrats, Republicans optimistic on climate change work

Dec 2, 2022, 6:51 AM
Climate Change Washington...
Power Washington seeks to expand hydropower, invest more in forest management, cut gas prices, and promote a variety of sources of energy, from hydrogen fuel to nuclear. (Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)
(Photo by Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

When the new Legislative Session begins in January, we may see Democrats and Republicans reaching across the aisle and finding common ground on climate change.

Senate Republicans unveiled their climate plan this week, entitled “Power Washington.” Sen. Shelly Short (R-Addy) said the seven-step plan blends environmentalism with affordability for residents.

“This state is going to continue its path to eliminate carbon emissions, but it is very key to remember that we need to do so reliably and affordably,” she said, adding, “This isn’t about going backward. This is about taking the base policies that have been enacted in this state and doing our work to make sure that reliability and affordability are there as we continue to innovate.”

The plan includes incentivizing the purchase of hybrid vehicles, which Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima) said would be less costly for Washington residents than all-electric cars. Power Washington also seeks to expand hydropower, invest more in forest management, cut gas prices, and promote a variety of sources of energy, from hydrogen fuel to nuclear.

The Republicans’ statements on affordability come after significant climate change legislation from Democrats in recent sessions, including the passage of a clean fuel standard and a cap-and-invest bill for large polluters. At the time of their passage last year, Republican legislators feared oil companies would offset higher costs incurred through those bills by passing them along to consumers at the gas pump.

Now, the Republican senators behind Power Washington called for a plan that would cut fossil fuel reliance without hurting residents’ pocketbooks.

“We need to have a plan that gets after issues like this that the people of Washington can truly afford to get behind, and not run people out of our state because they can’t afford to live here,” said Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), adding, “What this is is real ideas that get us where we need to go — ideas that aren’t driven by activism, but are driven by realism.”

During a preview of the upcoming session, Senate Democrats responded enthusiastically to the Republicans’ climate work.

Incoming Senate Deputy Majority Leader Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) said she had not yet read the Power Washington plan, but was looking forward to working with her Republican colleagues on it.

“I’m certainly grateful that they’re interested in continuing to work on decarbonization and addressing the challenges of climate change,” she said. “We know we have a lot more to do to ensure that we’re greening our transportation infrastructure and ensuring that we can continue to live in this world, so I’m open to all ideas.”

Nationally, climate change can be a divisive issue between the two parties, but Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig (D-Spokane) does not necessarily see this as the case here.

“There have been a few issues in which our Republican colleagues have sort of come over to a Democratic position. We’ve seen it in Washington and other states on the death penalty, we’ve seen it with the Working Families Tax Credit. And I’ve always thought climate change was going to be sort of the next big policy where the Republicans would come over,” he said.

He added, “I took it as a very hopeful sign that now we may have some productive partners to work with on climate change.”

In response to Senate Republicans’ criticism of past Democratic climate policies as expensive and unrealistic for the working class, Billig showed a willingness to tweak prior legislation.

“We always have to have a balance and make sure that we are doing it in a way that does not create some other significant harm,” he said. “I think we’re always open to making adjustments to make sure we got that balance right.”

The new session begins on Monday, Jan. 9.

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Senate Democrats, Republicans optimistic on climate change work