Sunday, October 14, 2018

If You Worry About Climate Change and Care About the Environment, Vote No on I-1631

If you care about the environment, if you worry about global warming, and if this summer's smoke is of concern, you should vote against Washington State Initiative 1631.

If you are like me, you are worried about the impacts of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere.  Our climate models are emphatic that rising levels of greenhouse gases will warm our planet substantially during this century.   Here in the Pacific Northwest, our snowpack will decline and sea level will rise on the southern portion of our Pacific coastal zone.

And if you are like me, you found summer smoke two years in a road disturbing and worry that it will become an annual affair.

And perhaps you worry about the state of our waterways, the pollution of our Sound, or the decline of our signature Orcas.  So do I.

You want to do something to address our environment challenges.  You want action now,  not later.  I do too.

But if you care for the environment and if you want to see our nation take real steps to address global warming, you should vote no on I-1631, the Washington State carbon fee initiative.   

As I will describe below, I-1631 is a flawed, ineffective, and highly partisan initiative that does little to deal with increasing greenhouse gases.  An initiative that will line the pockets of special interest groups, do economic damage to our poorest citizens, and stand in the way of far more effective approaches.  And its proponents have been less than honest about the nature of this ballot measure.
So why should you vote NO on this initiative?

1.  Reason One:   There is No Concrete Spending Plan for Billions of Dollars

The state's Office of Financial Management estimates that I-1631 will bring in 2.3 billion dollars during the first five years, and that this will rise to tens of billions of dollars over the next three decades.  But I-1631 has no explicit plan to deal with acute environmental challenges that require immediate investment if we are to be resilient to the future and current climate.  Some examples:

1.  Restore our east-side forests to a more natural state to prevent catastrophic fires.  Talk to the experts at the UW School of Environmental and Forest Science, the USFA Forest Service, or the Washington Department of Natural Resources (I have).  They know what needs to be done:  thin our overgrown east-side forests, pull out the slash and junk that has accumulated over nearly a century of fire suppression, and allow light, prescribed fires to clean out the remaining debris.  Restore the east-side forests to theier natural state.     To do so would cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, but it isn't being done because of a lack of funds and a lack of priority of our political leadership.

 This initiative should have explicitly directed hundreds of millions of dollars into fixing our east-side forests and reducing the big fires and smoke.  But it doesn't.   And a forest-restoration effort could employ thousands of Washington State citizens and help stabilize our forest industry.

2.  Rapidly Expand Rail Service in the Puget Sound Region.   The Puget Sound region desperately needs a massive increase in rail service, which could get folks out of their cars and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The small portion of the light rail system that is complete is packed much of the time.  But the current plans are for completion of the system in the early 2040s.  That is ridiculous, and the reason for the delay is lack of money.     Imagine if part of the carbon fee/tax was dedicated to light rail, with a commitment to speed up the system so that it is finished 10-15 years faster.   The project would be cheaper to build and there would be a large reduction of fossil fuel emission.  And a lot more construction jobs now.  But 1631 does nothing on this.

3.  Create the water storage system that will address the loss of mountain snowpack and greater evaporation from a warming climate.     I do regional climate simulations as part of my research.  Global warming will warm our region and substantially reduce our mountain snowpack. So there will be less snowmelt during summer and early fall to supply water for our farms and human consumption.  But our annual rainfall will be fine, and even increase.   The answer is clear:  we need to build more reservoir capacity around the state to capture the winter water.  And we need to improve our water delivery systems and encourage more efficient irrigation approaches (e.g., drip irrigation).    There is great interest among the agricultural interests in eastern Washington for such an improved system of water storage, including a proposed 4 billion dollar Yakima Basin Integrated Water Plan.   But the money is not there for it, and a carbon tax/fee could help supply it.  No mention of this in 1631.

4.   I-1631 provides no investments in scientific research for determining the impacts of climate change on our region  Research on the local implications of climate change and their impacts have been undermined by a lack of State support.  One needs the best estimates of the future to make good decisions on what to do to adapt and be resilient to climate change.  I-1631 ignores this critical requirement.  And more funding is needed to maintain the climate observations stations in our state.

I could give you more examples of acutely needed climate resilience and carbon-emission reducing projects that desperately need funding.   But you will not see any of them mentioned explicitly in I-1631.

Instead of explicitly dedicating carbon fee funding to important climate-related needs, I-1631 hands the responsibility of distributing the cash to a 15-member oversight board including five WA state department heads and 10 appointed (by the Governor) individuals. Only one (the Commissioner of Public Lands) is elected. And to add to the bureaucracy, there are three additional advisory boards.  These individuals are not accountable to anyone and they have no explicit plan to work with, other than seventy percent of the fee  must be used for the "clean air and clean energy investments" and twenty five percent for the "clean water and healthy forests".   The Sound Transit debacle shows the dangers of ineffective and wasteful spending by such public boards.

But it is worse than that.  Much worse.  The initiative hardwires money to certain special interest groups--the left-leaning supporters of the measure.  A minimum of ten percent of the money goes to Indian tribes, who are exempted from paying any carbon fee by the initiative.  Labor advocates got a fifty million dollar fund, replenished annually, for worker support programs.  And to provide funding to the social action groups pushing the initiative, 35% of the money goes to  "pollution and health action areas" of  minority and "vulnerable populations."  There is more, but you get the message (see picture below).

I-1631 will be a trough of billions of dollars of cash for left-leaning social action and "progressive" groups, and dealing with climate change will be a secondary priority.   How can you know this for sure?  Easy.  The same groups that are pushing I-1631 opposed the revenue-neutral carbon tax initiative  (I-732) in 2016, which was much more aggressive in reducing carbon initiatives. Why did they oppose it?  Because their groups did not get the money.

I suspect that the vast majority of I-1631 supporters have not read the 38 pages of the initiative.  If they did, they would be aghast of what they found.

2.    Reason Two I-1631, is a highly partisan effort that will not serve as an example to the nation.

Washington State is a relatively green state, with much of our energy coming from hydropower.   We represent a very small portion of the U.S..  The only way we can have a significant impact on global warming is by passing measures that have a real chance of being adopted across the U.S.  I-732, the 2016 carbon tax initiative, was such a measure;  one that was revenue neutral (returned all the carbon tax to Washington citizens) and had bipartisan support.    Major national Republican leaders are now supporting a revenue neutral carbon tax, and a well-designed version in our state could be an example for the nation.

Unfortunately, I-1631 takes a completely partisan approach.  A group of left-leaning social action and environmental groups, big labor, and native American tribes wrote I-1631, without any moderate or conservative support.   I-1631 creates a carbon fee whose proceeds would be distributed by a committee appointed by our Democratic governor, with substantial portions of the money hardwired to left-leaning groups.

There is absolutely no chance that I-1631, with its "progressive" and "social action" agenda, can serve as a model to the nation, something made obvious by looking at a political map based on the last election (see below).  Most of the counties in the U.S. are red (voted for Trump), not blue.   The left-leaning, social action approach of  I-1631 will never have much impact on the greenhouse gas emissions of most of the U.S.

3.   I-1631's Carbon Fee is Too Small to Be Effective

The initial carbon fee of I-1631 is about half that I-732 would have initiated, and a number of analyses have shown that I-1631 would result in gas prices going up about 14 cents a gallon the first year.  This is too small to have a significant impact on fuel usage by consumers, since gas prices go up and down far more than that due to market volatility.   A revenue neutral carbon tax can increase the gas tax much more without consumer rebellion and damage to our economy.  Why?   Because consumers get all the funds back.

The bottom line of the above is that I-1631 will not only be ineffective in reducing carbon emissions over our state, but there is no explicit and coherent plan to direct the funds to acutely needed climate-related projects.

But there is something else.  The activists pushing I-1631 been extraordinarily deceptive in their claims and messaging.  And if they are deceptive about the initiative, can you trust them later to spend billions of dollars wisely?

I-1631 False Claim 1:  The Oil Companies Will Pay, So Energy Prices Won't Rise

The advocates of 1631 are making the claim that the oil companies will not pass on the carbon fee to consumer, so that prices of gasoline and heating fuels won't rise much, if at all.  Don't believe me?  It was on the front page of their web site (see below).  A total fiction.  The oil companies will pass on this fee to you, guaranteed (I checked some of their representatives to confirm this).

And their claims are doubly ridiculous:  the whole idea of a carbon fee is to substantially increase the price of gasoline or fuels, so that people move to more ecological alternatives.  If the price stays the same or nearly the same, people will not change their ways and emissions will not decline.

I-1631 False Claim 2:  I-1631 Makes the Big Polluters Pay!

Many of the advertisements and claims for 1631 state that the initiative will make "big polluters" pay.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  I-1631 specifically excludes many of the big carbon polluters (e.g., the Centralia coal power plant, pulp mills, the aviation industry, Boeing) and the oil companies will simply pass the carbon fee on to consumers. So big polluters won't pay, individuals and small businesses will.   Now that would not be so bad if the carbon tax/fee was returned directly to the individuals and businesses (like I-732 did), but it is a big problem in I-1631, which keeps all the money.

Importantly, I-1631 is a highly regressive fee, with the largest burden on the poorest people.  We already have a very regressive tax structure; I-1631 makes it much worse.

I-1631 False Claim 3:  I-1631 Will End the Summer Smoke Over Washington

A number of major 1631 supporters are claiming that 1631 will end or address the wildfire/smoke issue.  With no plan, it is hard to see how they can make this claim.   Hundreds of millions of dollars are needed to fix this problem, with a program directed by our best forest scientists.  I-1631 has no such plan and does not commit the large resources needed.

Are Oil Companies Evil?

Perhaps the biggest animating force of the I-1631 activists is their hate of "big oil", who they see as the puppetmaster of conservatives and the enemy of dealing with global warming.   They claim that big oil obfuscated the threat of global warming for years, preventing action.  And the funding of a big portion of the No on 1631 campaign by big oil is seen as confirmation of its evil intent.  Really, the I-1631 folks see oil companies as some kind of powerful amalgam of Darth Vader, the Devil, and perhaps Donald Trump.

I suspect the truth is more nuanced.  If Big Oil was covering up global warming,  they did a very bad job at it.  The impact of CO2 has been talked about since the 80s and the estimates of the impacts have not really changed in thirty years.  Global warming gets wide attention in the media, and if anything is hyped up and exaggerated. Greenhouse warming has been no secret.

And if oil companies were trying to suppress competitors, they have been ineffective.  The technologies of solar and wind energy have matured and spread widely.  Energy conserving technologies like LED bulbs have exploded. Hybrid and electric car technologies have flourished.  Most oil companies now publicly acknowledge the threat of anthropogenic global warming, and they did very little to block I-732--the environmental left did the heavy lifting to stop 732.
Typical Oil Company Executive?

Big oil has provided a high-quality product at a declining place (considering inflation) that is demanded by virtually everyone.  Yes, even environmental activists, who often are big travelers.  If their products were not demanded, they would go out of business, like others before them.

To paraphrase Shakespeare:  "the problem dear environmentalist is not in the oil companies, but in ourselves for demanding their product"

What should an environmentalist do?

If you care about global warming and the Washington State environment, one cannot support this poorly designed initiative that will do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, will not serve as example to the nation, and which has no real plan to spend huge sums of money.  Its passage will stand in the way of more effective approaches.

We need to vote NO and move to a better approach, such as:

1.  A bipartisan revenue-neutral carbon tax that will reduce our emissions and set the stage for a national carbon tax.  A substantial carbon tax will encourage individuals and industries to emit less and to move to renewable technologies.  It will encourage research and development of better energy technologies.

2.  Or a carbon fee that directs the money to explicit projects, like mass transit, fixing the forests, and ensuring sufficient water supplies in the future.

If you are uncertain about this initiative, please read through the text.


Debate on Tuesday at UW on I-1631:  All Welcome

Friday, October 12, 2018

Ridgezilla Returns is a back.  A huge persistent ridge of high pressure that won't go away.    You know its name:

And because of this monstrous high pressure, it won't rain at least for a week.  Our temperatures will be above normal.  Afternoons will have sun.  Absolutely perfect fall weather.

Let's me show you this unnatural creature through a series of upper-level (500 hPa pressure level, about 18,000 ft) maps.

The forecast map for 2 PM Saturday shows a huge ridge of high heights (or pressures) over the northeast Pacific.

 5 PM Monday?  Still there!
 8 AM Wednesday has the ridge in place, but displaced a bit to the east.   Still protecting us from the rain monster.

 And it moves back and strengths at 5 PM Friday.  Wow.

But what about the weather at the surface?   The best thing to look at are ensembles of many forecasts that can help us understand probabilities and uncertainties.  Looking at the 21 forecast National Weather Service GEFS precipitation ensemble at Sea-Tac, it is clear that they are insistent we will get nothing.

The temperature ensembles show a warming trend to near 70F on Wednesday and above-normal temperatures the rest of the period.
Folks...this one is pretty much in the bag... so get outside and enjoy it.  The only issue might be some morning clouds Saturday morning and later in the week.  But those will burn off by lunchtime.
Announcement:  Initiative 1631 Debate

There will be a debate at UW at 5 PM Tuesday afternoon about the carbon-fee initiative.  Located in room 301 Gowan Hall.   Everyone is invited.  More information below.

And if you want to prep yourself by reading the 38 pages of the initiative, a pdf of it is here.

Second Announcement:  Wonderful New Book on the 1962 Columbus Day Storm:  The Deadly Wind by John Dodge.  The biggest storm in NW history, well described by a veteran reporter.  More information here