Posted By William McPherson
Jolinda Stephens, UUVoices Coordinator, and I attended two hearings at the State House of Representatives on January 27 and February 3. Each hearing had relevance for two UUVoices priorities: Climate Change and Fossil Fuel Transport.
On January 27, the House Environment Committee held hearings on HB 1314, the House version of Governor Inslee’s climate cap and trade proposal. The witness list was highly imbalanced, with most witnesses opposing the bill because its provisions would allegedly hurt their bottom lines. Some were more honest than others, but when two heating oil company witnesses, several agricultural interest lobbyists, and a number of other business lobbyists all complained about the bill, they were showing the sort of short-term thinking that plagues discussion of climate change. Few witnesses spoke about the long-term costs of climate change that will damage everyone in the state including the businesses whose lobbyists opposed the bill. Only a few witnesses spoke about the immorality of inaction.
On February 3, the same House committee held hearings on HB 1449, the oil transportation safety bill. The witness list was much more balanced. While representatives for oil refineries, railroads and some marine transportation interests opposed the bill, many other witnesses supported it. Particularly effective statements were those from firefighters and residents along the Columbia River whose cities will be devastated by oil train accidents.
These two different bills, and the way they were handled by the House Environment Committee, show how challenging these issues can be, and how the challenges differ. Climate change has a diffuse constituency – those of us who are concerned are far and wide in the population – while oil transportation safety has a concentrated constituency. First responders such as firefighters, residents in cities along the railroads, and parents concerned about schools located near railroads and oil facilities, can make their case in a specific way that appeals to legislators. For climate action witnesses, the issues are more remote in time and space, and the opposition can claim that Washington’s policies will have little effect on the worldwide problem. We need to focus our attention on the climate issues that will draw the interest of legislators toward the long-term changes needed in Washington to preserve its environment – such as loss of snowpack, forest fires and threats to agriculture. How we can do that will be the subject of future discussions, and any suggestions would be welcome