West Coast Democrats Behind 'Great Blue Wall' Push Progressive Climate Agenda

Nov 9, 2017
Originally published on November 9, 2017 12:41 pm

Later this week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will discuss how the West Coast can push a progressive agenda to curb carbon emissions.

For years, Inslee — who has been called the green governor — has pushed to tax his state’s biggest polluters. But with a Republican-controlled state Senate, the ambitious plan languished.

On Tuesday, Republicans lost their one-vote majority in the Washington state Senate, giving Democrats control of the “great blue wall": full control over the legislatures across the West Coast in Oregon, Washington and California.

Now, the governors — both Democrats who have fashioned themselves as leaders of the Trump resistance — have a pathway to collectively push their progressive climate agenda. 

“To have a chance to do something to rescue our forest from destruction and Puget Sound from acidification and the big change in our climate, that’s a great thing," Inslee said Tuesday morning. "We now have those options available to us."

Oregon is also considering a proposal to cap the state's greenhouse gas emissions.

“Oregon is a small state,” Brown said. “We’re only four million people, and our ability to work with states like Washington and California — and frankly the (Canadian) province of British Columbia — enables us to move further and faster."

Brown said the three states and Canadian province can work with each other to "replicate best practices" along the West Coast.

Washington Democratic Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson said changes to committee assignments in her chamber are already underway.

Until this week’s election, the Washington senate environmental committee was chaired by Doug Ericksen, who was tapped by the Donald Trump administration to be part of the Environmental Protection Agency. Ericksen has expressed doubts about human-caused climate change.

“He had a scientist come forward who was a climate denier and testified that (climate change) is not human caused,” Nelson said.

Nelson said she’s had conversations with Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek about how the region could also align on a broader liberal agenda.

“Whether it’s to protect LGBTQ citizens because the Trump administration is moving us backward, helping women with reproductive health, giving access to health care," Nelson said, listing possible areas of cooperation. "We’re all concerned about the rollback on health care.”

Inslee said there’s a broader environmental agenda that could benefit from bi-state cooperation, including strengthening laws around oil-by-rail and working to maximize the use of renewable energy.

Despite the flip in Washington’s upper chamber, the Democrats still have a slim majority. The Democratic candidate who won, Manka Dhingra, is serving the remainder year of Republican Sen. Andy Hill’s term after he died of lung cancer.

The 2018 election offers another chance for Republicans to regain the seat.

Washington State GOP Chair Susan Hutchison called Democrats' celebration premature, blasting them as arrogant and noting the next election is not far away.

Hutchison said she won’t be surprised if Inslee pushes his climate agenda.

“Whether the Democrats want to put their future elections in jeopardy is the next question. I would suggest they keep a guiding hand on their left-wing governor and steward the state budget so people don’t have to face more taxes,” she said, adding the policy is an example of Inslee “pandering” to “special interests in the environmental cartel.”

If Democrats maintain control after 2018, they could unveil a more ambitious agenda. Control of the great blue wall at that point could lead to a renewed interest in funneling money toward an Interstate-5 bridge replacement, an effort that died in the Washington state Senate.

“It’s ludicrous we still have to rely on something built during the Woodrow Wilson administration that is so fragile and could come down with the smallest of tremors,” Inslee said.

But for now, the second-term Democratic governor said he will focus on his climate agenda.

He said he's looking forward to speaking with his counterparts in Oregon and California at the ongoing climate conference in Bonn, Germany.

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