Gov. Jay Inslee sounded many of the themes common to his stump speeches as the state’s most influential watchman of climate change, in his address to the South Sound Chambers of Commerce Legislative Coalition Breakfast at Emerald Downs in Auburn on Tuesday.
Climate change, Inslee said, is threatening the good things that enriched his childhood, from fishing to forests.
Noting that the three worst forest fire seasons in state history to date happened on his watch, he cast a nervous eye to the flames devouring the forests of Southern California. As the governor is painfully aware, Washington’s forests are vulnerable to the same drought, heat and wind conditions that are feeding those greedy, not-so-distant flames.
Vulnerable even to the same insect infestations.
“If you drive over Blewett Pass, you’ll see one in every three trees is dead from beetle-kill because the climate no longer kills the beetle in the winter so they get to munch on trees year around,” Inslee said.
He described water temperatures in 40 percent of state streams that kill 40 percent of adult salmon because of the toxicity of stormwater runoff.
But in his view, the monster daddy of all threats is carbon pollution. It endangers everybody’s health, he said, and has already spiked rates of asthma to unthinkable levels, especially in industrial areas. That’s why he supports a tax on carbon emissions.
Taken all in all, he said, climate change threatens the fundamental legacy of the state of Washington in which he grew up so that generations to come will not be able enjoy what their forbears have.
But Inslee said he intends to fight, and win, those battles for the state of Washington.
In the upcoming session of the state legislature, Inslee said, he hopes to work with lawmakers, perhaps to set up a fund to accomplish things that will help businesses grow around a clean-energy economy.
“By the way, the clean energy economy is doing really well in the state of Washington. Jobs in the solar industry are growing 17 times faster than any other sector in the American economy. The reason is that prices are coming down for these new technologies so dramatically that these businesses are growing like crazy,” he said.
Indeed, he said, the largest battery in the world today for grid-scale, renewable energy is made in Mukilteo.
“We’re rocking it when it comes to job creation, but we need a little boost,” Inslee said. “We need some dollars to invest in stormwater so that we have salmon for our kids to fish. And I believe having a charge on carbon pollution is the best way to pay for that, not a tax on somebody buying shoes for their kids, or property taxes. There is a better way to pay for this, so I’m going to talk to our legislators about a way to save the most important, the most beautiful, the most treasured state in the United States, and that’s the state of Washington.”
Inviting “softball questions” from the audience, Inslee listened as a realtor described the many years that have passed since the construction of affordable places to live, like condominiums, in the Puget Sound Region. Arguing that the shortage is keeping young people at home with their parents or forcing them into high-rate, rental apartments, he wanted to know whether Inslee, as governor, had any plans to deal with the dearth.
“The thing I think we now need to turn our attention to is just housing stock, the amount of building,” Inslee responded. “We have not been building enough housing, period. And when you have 65,000 people moving into your state because of your great economy, and you’re not building housing, you’re going to get homelessness, because prices are going to go up faster than wages, and that’s what’s been happening.
“I believe we need to focus our efforts and find ways to increase the rate of building housing stock. One of them is our land-use and zoning issues, where we are preventing building more denser housing. This is a hard issue, because the one geological fact I know is they just aren’t building more dirt in the state of Washington, so we are going to have to have more dense housing, or we are going to have a lot more homelessness,” Inslee said.