SEATTLE — As the legislative session begins Monday, Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz is urging state lawmakers to adopt a carbon policy that will prepare state lands, forests, waters and local communities that depend on natural resources to better deal with climate change.
“The threats to our healthy and productive lands are real, we are already late in responding, and we cannot afford to wait for others to bring leadership to this challenge,” she wrote to legislative leaders in a letter urging them to act.
Gov. Jay Inslee plans to release details of his proposed tax on carbon emissions on Tuesday. He told reporters Thursday that he wants to use state reserves to help pay for education, and backfill that reserve withdrawal with about $1 billion in carbon tax revenues.
Inslee said the Legislature is the place to get a carbon measure passed and he’ll encourage lawmakers to get it done. But “there’s no reason to believe there would not be an initiative if the legislature doesn’t act on carbon this year,” he added.
Franz said in an interview Wednesday that she wants to make sure that new revenues raised from any carbon pricing policies are used to reduce carbon pollution and strengthen the ability of state forest, farms and communities to adapt to a changing climate. She said using such money to fund education or other items — as Inslee has proposed in the past — that aren’t linked to carbon reduction misses opportunities to address problems now that will only be exacerbated in the future.
The state needs to ensure that money raised is focused on helping make state lands, water and communities more resilient to climate change impacts, she said.
Washington voters in 2016 rejected a carbon-tax ballot measure. Several groups such as the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, Native American tribes and The Nature Conservancy have been discussing bringing a statewide initiative to the ballot, perhaps as early as November.
Franz said she wants to make sure that the state develops “smart carbon policy” that links that revenue to investments in reducing carbon emissions, such as maintaining the ability of farms and forests to store carbon. Incentives could be used to encourage forest owners to harvest later while letting their trees grower bigger. Revenues should also be invested in promoting healthy forests to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
As head of the Department of Natural Resources, Franz is responsible for the state’s largest firefighting force and managing 5.6?million acres of state-owned lands. She said the work of her agency is on the front lines of climate change, as wildfire risks intensify, sea levels rise and ocean acidification impacts shellfish and other industries.