OLYMPIA — Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s strategy as a warrior for the environment is once again coming under fire from other fighters in the environmentalist movement.
They’re angry the state Department of Ecology he oversees is appealing a court order requiring new clean air rules be adopted by the end of the year, even though Inslee himself lauded that legal decision in statements issued by his office and campaign last month.
“Eight courageous kids went to court to compel us adults to take action on climate change. I’m happy to say that they won,” read the email blast to Inslee supporters. “Thanks to those eight kids, the court has affirmed our plan to act, contrary to the assertion of those who continue to obstruct action on climate change and ocean acidification.”
In addition, lawyers for the children are critical of the clean air rules Inslee’s administration has drafted to reduce carbon emissions. They say they are not strong enough to get the job done.
What the governor and the agency are doing is “greenwashing,” asserts one of the children’s two attorneys. It is a term used to describe when a person promotes environmentally friendly programs to deflect attention from environmentally unfriendly or less savory activities, explained Julia Olson, who is chief legal counsel for the Oregon-based group, Our Children’s Trust and one of two attorneys representing the children.
“First, Inslee’s proposed rule would lock in unacceptable levels of pollution and catastrophic harm to the young people of Washington,” she said. “And now, after using the youths’ court victory as a campaign platform, Inslee’s administration is trying to get the court ruling overturned.
“We need courage and leadership right now, not gamesmanship and half-baked plans,” she said. “Get on board governor, or get out of the way.”
Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, her co-counsel, said Inslee and the agency “continue to deceive the public by claiming they are doing all they can to protect our children from climate change, but their actions in court prove otherwise.”
The pointed swipes are a reminder of the simmering frustration among environmentalists with the lack of successes engineered by the first-term governor for whom saving the planet from the ravages of climate change is a priority above all other priorities.
The two attorneys stress they aren’t questioning Inslee’s commitment to the cause. They and other environmentalists want to see talk and more walk on the signature challenges.
There’s no question Inslee’s been rebuffed by lawmakers, primarily the Republican-run Senate, in his efforts to establish a cap-and-trade system for reducing carbon emissions and draft standards for lower carbon fuels.
Operating outside the Legislature hasn’t been any more fruitful.
He’s yet to fulfill a pledge to toughen water quality standards that reduce the risk of toxins getting into fish consumed by the public. He scrapped a draft rule on the eve of its adoption in 2015 amid complaints it wasn’t strong enough from environmentalists and tribal leaders. A new version released this Spring could be adopted in August.
It’s a similar story with clean air rules. The ecology department proposed a version in January only to withdraw it in February to redo in response to public critiques. The latest draft came out June 1 and agency officials say they fully intend to adopt it by the end of the year. That’s the deadline set by the court.
So what’s the problem?
The public “deserves full opportunity to influence the final outcome and the court ordered deadline could hamper that,” said Camille St. Onge, communications manager for air quality with the ecology department. “An appeal preserves our ability to consider comments about the most significant environmental problem of our time from all Washingtonians.”
Rodgers rejected that argument.
“That makes no sense whatsoever. Nothing in the Judge’s ruling prohibits Ecology from accepting public comments on the final rule,” she wrote in an email from Oslo, Norway, where she was discussing the case at an international conference.
And she and Olson wondered why Inslee isn’t taking advantage of the political cover the court mandate provides against potential opponents to the rules.
Tara Lee, a spokeswoman for Inslee, said the governor shares the children’s “sense of urgency around action on climate” but does not want to shortcut the public’s opportunity to have input.
“We want a Clean Air rule that is going to be lasting and be effective, and if it is going to last we need to have it go through the public process,” she said in an email.
And, apparently, the legal process as well.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @dospueblos