OLYMPIA — Legislation to make local governments tackle climate change got a rough reception Tuesday from the Washington Farm Bureau and lobbyists representing cities and counties.
The mandate probably would inspire lawsuits, claiming cities and counties weren’t making their residents release less greenhouse gas, the lobbyists said. The Farm Bureau said many of their rural members must drive long distances.
The opposition likely scuttled the proposal. “There wasn’t a lot of support,” observed Senate Local Government Committee Chairman Dean Takko, D-Longview.
The committee also took testimony on two related bills introduced by Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline. Senate Bill 6453 would make reducing carbon emissions and the number of miles people drive a requirement of local development plans and rules.
Senate Bill 6335 gives more instructions on developing carbon-reduction plans in larger Western Washington counties. Both bills would amend the Growth Management Act, the main state law guiding development.
The bills are intended to enlist cities and counties to help meet goals the Legislature set in 2008 to cut carbon emissions and reduce miles traveled. Since then, emissions and driving have increased, leaving the state far off-course in achieving either goal.
Farm Bureau director of government relations Tom Davis said policies to reduce driving would conflict with another state land-use goal — preserving rural lifestyles and economies.
“For agriculture, especially in the Columbia Basin, I don’t know how in the world you would apply and actually succeed in reducing miles driven and maintain the economic viability of our farms,” Davis said.
Association of Washington Cities government relations advocate Carl Schroeder said the association was concerned about what exactly the mandate to cut carbon emissions would require cities to do.
“There’s also some language (in both bills) that says we have to nurture the environment, and economic and human health. We’re not quite sure what ‘nurturing’ would mean in that context,” he said.
“We don’t want to find ourselves having every little city in the state sued over their decisions that impact a pretty large problem.”
Futurewise, a group founded to support the Growth Management Act, supported Salomon’s bills. Futurewise has filed legal challenges to many growth-management plans adopted by local governments.
The group’s state policy director, Bryce Yadon, said it was important to hold cities and counties accountable for curbing carbon and miles driven.
“Our goal isn’t to, and I know people will probably disagree, appeal and litigate all of these plans. Our goal is to really have the jurisdictions dig deep and figure out how they’re going to achieve this,” he said.
As chairman, Takko holds the key to whether the bills advance. He said after the hearing he wasn’t inclined to let through bills this year that would make major changes to the Growth Management Act.
The Legislature commissioned a report on how the act is working. The report came out last year and exceeded 400 pages. Lawmakers must review issues raised in the report, and that won’t happen before the legislative session ends, Takko said.