Climate change legislation aimed at making Washington state a part of the Western Climate Initiative’s planned regional carbon cap-and-trade program is on the rocks in the state Legislature. Meanwhile, legislation in Utah and Arizona to pull out of the WCI advanced. In Washington state, senators passed legislation, SB 5138, March 10 that would create a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction program in the state. They stripped out the mandatory cap backed by Governor Chris Gregoire based on concerns over the impact of a cap-and-trade program on the state’s economy, as well as skepticism about whether human activity is the real cause of climate change. “I call this the Idaho economic development act,” said state Senator Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside). He questioned why Washington state should enact “cap-and-tax” legislation when it remains unclear whether greenhouse gas emissions are the real cause of climate change. Washington state Senate Republican floor leader Senator Mark Schloesler (R-Ritzville) called the bill a “radical” measure. In the Democratic-controlled Washington state Senate, lawmakers voted 30-to-18 to pass the watered-down bill after businesses said a mandatory carbon cap-and-trade law would likely force them to relocate or lay off employees. “This is a major disincentive for businesses because nobody knows what the cost will be,” said Robert Bleu, Shining Ocean seafood company president. The company packages seafood. Bleu told lawmakers if the bill passed with a mandatory cap as originally introduced he would move the company to Texas. The measure now is pending before the House Ecology and Parks Committee, which held a hearing on the bill March 17 but took no action. Gregoire told the panel that Washington must lead on greenhouse gas reduction to make sure it’s “at the table” when it comes to “shaping” a likely federal program. “Climate change is the great challenge of our time,” she said. Meanwhile, the Washington Senate passed a bill late last month by a 27-21 vote to roll back the state’s renewable energy standard by up to 75 percent depending on future growth in power demand. The measure, SB 5840, is now pending in the House. “We’re in danger of making Washington the first state in the country to go backward on clean energy, “said Joan Crooks, Washington Environmental Coalition executive director. In Utah, the Legislature March 2 sent a resolution, HR 3, to Governor Jon Huntsman asking him to pull the state out of the WCI. The resolution said that a carbon cap-and-trade program would raise the cost of doing business in Utah and force companies to move out of state or even out of the nation. Meanwhile, the Arizona House of Representatives passed HB 2467, which would require the state to pull out of the WCI. Five state governors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, formed the WCI in February 2007. Its members plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade market. Today, the organization includes seven U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. * * * * In the nation’s capitol, 33 Senators wrote to the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND), to voice their opposition to using the federal budget process to enact carbon cap-and-trade legislation. Twenty-five Republicans, led by Senate Mike Johanns (R-NE), and eight Democrats, led by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV), signed the letter, which was announced March 12. The lawmakers wrote in reaction to a carbon cap-and-trade program President Obama outlined in his 2010 budget proposal to Congress last month (Circuit, Feb. 27, 2009). It calls for auctioning carbon emissions rights and using the projected $15 billion a year in proceeds to fund clean energy projects. “Proposals to implement a nationwide cap-and-trade program must be debated in an open and transparent way, not developed behind closed doors and rushed into law through the budget reconciliation process,” said Johanns. Under Senate rules, the budget resolution can be passed without 60 senators voting to end debate. This means that a simple majority of Democrats could enact cap-and-trade through the budget process. However, under the current party alignment in the Senate, the normal legislative process would allow Republicans to filibuster any cap-and-trade bill as long as their leaders could control the party ranks. With only 56 members of the Senate, Democrats could not muster the 60 votes needed to force a vote. Republicans hold 41 seats and independents two. One election remains undecided. * * * * * Insurance companies must begin disclosing financial risk due to climate change under requirements the National Association of Insurance Commissioners adopted March 17 while meeting in San Diego. “Climate change will have huge impacts on the insurance industry and we need better information on how insurers are responding to the challenge,” said Pennsylvania insurance commissioner Joel Ario, who chairs the association’s climate change and global warming task force. “We are concerned about how climate change will impact the financial health of the insurance sector and the availability and affordability of insurance.” Reporting of risk to state insurance commissions is to begin May 1, 2010. Insurance companies are supposed to report on how they have altered their risk management and catastrophe modeling programs to account for climate change.