Energy & Environment

Western Dems look to climate to revitalize jobs messages

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Western states run by Democrats are aiming to use government responses to climate change as the basis for a new economic pitch to show voters the party can manage a transitioning economy.
State leaders are plotting aggressive new measures to tackle carbon emissions and promote renewable energy, in the face of an incoming administration that takes a skeptical view of climate change.
The Democrats are using the environmental policies to try to convince middle-class and rural voters they can handle an economic transition that could lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of new jobs in lucrative manufacturing and energy sectors
“This is fundamentally a jobs message,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) said during an interview in his office. “We represent a horizon of job creation that is as great or greater than any other industrial sector.”
That economic pitch was lacking in 2016, many Democrats said, when President-elect Donald Trump more effectively convinced voters that he would bring jobs back to areas left behind by a slow and unsteady recovery than did Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
{mosads}All three West Coast states are run by Democratic governors, who say they plan to be at the vanguard of efforts to combat climate change even in the face of opposition from President-elect Donald Trump.
As part of his budget proposal this year, Inslee has asked legislators to pass a tax of $25 per metric ton of carbon emissions, which would raise an estimated $2 billion in new revenue to pay for education funding, clean energy and transportation projects.
In Oregon, the Democratic-run legislature has plans to consider their own cap-and-trade program. Gov. Kate Brown (D) and legislative leaders are working on a transportation package that would reduce carbon emissions, and last year Brown signed legislation that would end the state’s reliance on coal-powered electricity.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) this week asked legislators to extend a cap-and-trade program beyond its current 2020 expiration date, in hopes of generating billions in revenue through statewide auctions. Much of that money, Brown said this week, would go toward paying for high-tech transportation programs aimed at lowering emissions.
Jerry Brown, entering the final two years of his last term in office, has pledged a particularly aggressive response to the Trump administration’s climate change skepticism. Last month, Brown proposed launching a satellite to study climate data if the Trump administration blocks such research by NOAA and NASA. Asked Tuesday whether he was serious, Brown said: “If things really get drastic, I don’t rule anything out.”
“I’m very optimistic that what’s going on in Washington is a pause, not a change,” Brown told reporters when he unveiled his yearly budget. “It just happens to be a political pause that will not sustain itself in the face of science.”
Together, the three states and British Columbia in Canada have formed the Pacific Coast Collaborative, a joint plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. 
California passed legislation last year that will require the state to generate 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030; Oregon passed a law requiring it to hit the 50 percent renewable mark by 2040.
“We will remain masters of our own destiny when it comes to carbon, and if anything it’s a rationale for speeding up our efforts due to the fact that we can’t depend on the White House or Congress,” Inslee said.
Republicans say the Democratic focus on a changing climate has little impact in a world in which China, India and other emerging economies continue emitting carbon at a rapid clip. They’ve hammered Democrats for focusing on climate change rather than on jobs for middle class Americans.
“We’ve lost many, many jobs as a result of [cap and trade]. We’ve brought in more boatloads of supplies, resources and fuels from China and other places. I’m not sure whether we’re curing climate change or just displacing it,” said California state Sen. Jean Fuller, the Republican leader. 
“I would go back and actually study whether any of this is making a difference worldwide, or just costing California a lot of jobs and a competitive disadvantage in business.”
But Democrats say they hope to use climate issues, and the renewable energy issues that go along with them, to convince blue-collar and rural workers of a new path forward.
“No one votes for polar bears. People care about local, human issues, period,” said Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager who has spent tens of millions of dollars on environmental issues and Democratic causes in recent years. “On an economic basis, acting on clean energy is positive in every single fashion, including creating millions of net good jobs.”
The economic message Trump pitched during the campaign resonated, Democrats said, because of a legitimate angst among rural voters whose jobs in manufacturing, mining and — especially on the West Coast — timber have disappeared.
After years of job losses, thanks to a waning timber industry and a global crash in commodity prices, Trump won several counties in all three states that Democrats have carried for years, most of them former bastions of Democrats’ union base. Trump won nine counties that touch the Pacific Ocean, more than even Ronald Reagan’s eight in 1984.
“We are an economy and a nation in transition, and it is for multiple reasons. It is a technological transition, it is a resource-based transition,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in an interview in his office. 
“I don’t think that we should be stunned that when you have the total displacement of millions of jobs by technology that you will not have some degree of concern, backlash, transition on issues and demographics. That’s what we’re going through.”
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