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Guest column: Shape plans to cut carbon emissions for coastal communities

The risks and damages just keep mounting

By Mike Cassinelli and Brad Warren

Special to The Daily Astorian

Published on September 14, 2017 12:01AM

Mike Cassinelli

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Mike Cassinelli

Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. is a major processor of Dungeness crab.

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Jessie’s Ilwaco Fish Co. is a major processor of Dungeness crab.

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Brad Warren

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Brad Warren

Abundant fisheries are Ilwaco’s lifeblood, so I take an interest in reducing the carbon emissions that undercut the ocean’s ability to produce seafood. I own a charter fishing operation and currently serve as mayor of Ilwaco.

Why do I care? Overheated river water killed half the sockeye salmon returning to the Columbia River in 2015. That year a warm-water “blob” in the ocean helped fuel an algae bloom that fouled some of our main fisheries with a neurotoxin called domoic acid. It caused job-destroying closures of Dungeness crab fishing. It shut the razor clam harvest that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Washington’s coast.

The risks and damages just keep mounting. Ilwaco’s biggest private employer is a fish plant that relies on city water from a forested watershed. Logging and climate change could destabilize our water supply.

A citizens’ initiative is being drafted that could help Washingtonians prosper and cut carbon pollution. The measure needs improvement to reduce emissions enough and to fit rural realities. But the proposition wending toward ballots in 2018 stands a decent chance of passing.

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy proposal would raise about $1.2 billion a year initially and reinvest the money to reduce pollution, ease climate impacts, and mitigate inequitable impacts of carbon pricing. A few percent of revenues are reserved to aid workers who could lose their jobs if big polluters close shop and energy-intensive businesses costs rise. Administrative expenses are capped at 5 percent. For the balance, the Alliance promises 70 percent for clean energy and 30 percent for water and forest projects.

Carbon revenues might help us protect Ilwaco’s water supply. They could help build an efficient cold storage, saving the cost and emissions from trucking our tuna all the way to Bellingham and back. With some adjustments, this plan has potential. Suggestions:

Achieve Washington’s greenhouse gas targets. An initial model forecast indicates that the Alliance plan (as previewed in 2017’s H.R. 1646) would fall short of state emission targets. Why shoot to miss? Recommendation: Model emissions outcomes and adjust the proposed investment priorities (and complementary rules) until the plan can deliver.

Keep costs low. The proposed starting price of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (13.5 cents/gallon of gas) could fund transformative investments in a cleaner economy. But the Alliance has proposed to raise the tax as much as 7 percent annually whenever emissions exceed goals. Other states are achieving — and beating — emissions targets with low carbon prices. Why not Washington? Recommendations: Limit the tax to $15 for at least five years. Cap later price hikes at the rate of local wage increases by county.

Protect rural communities. Because we lack Seattle’s density, wealth and infrastructure, some criteria in the Alliance proposal could exclude us. Recommendations: Make sure carbon revenues help rural people drive down our fuel bills. Reserve 25 percent of carbon revenues for rural areas. Allow rural projects that use fossil fuels if they reduce emissions. Wherever labor standards govern investments, use average local wages by county.

Fund projects to improve fuel efficiency in both vehicles and commercial marine vessels. Transportation produces nearly half of Washington’s carbon emissions. We need investment guidelines that make improvements affordable, not unattainable. Recommendations: Use simple, cheap “input and output” measures to confirm emission reductions in transport (instead of picking winners by defining “verified” technologies). Fuel purchase records, fuel flow meters and biannual emission tests might work.

Don’t isolate Washington. The Alliance has proposed to prohibit investments to reduce any emissions that occur outside the state. This disadvantages residents who buy fuel at home but burn much of it out of state (including fishermen). It will also impair efforts to link arms across borders to meet this big, shared challenge. Recommendations: Explicitly permit investments that reduce emissions from vessels or vehicles owned by Washington individuals or entities, regardless of whether those emissions occur within the state.

These are just a few ideas to refine the Alliance’s plan to work for fishery-dependent communities like ours. The Alliance has made a decent start tackling a problem that matters to all of us, but they have their own priorities. Now it’s up to the rest of us to help shape that plan into a solution we can support (and live with). Time is short. Probably by the end of October, the window will close to adjust initiative language. How to get involved? Join the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, which helped me learn enough to speak up.

Mike Cassinelli is the mayor of Ilwaco, Washington. Brad Warren is senior adviser to the Working Group on Seafood and Energy, a trade organization representing the seafood industry, coastal communities and fishery-dependent tribes.


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