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CM O’Brien’s Remarks to the Governor’s Climate Workgroup

Note: Below are Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s prepared remarks from the  Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup public hearing on October 24. CM O’Brien testified on behalf of the City of Seattle, along with Mayor McGinn. The Workgroup is charged with recommending a state program of actions and policies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, that if implemented would ensure achievement of the state’s emissions reductions limits set in Chapter 70.235 by the 2008 legislature. See footnote at the bottom of this post for details on the State’s reduction targets.

I start my comments off tonight by thanking all of you.  Not just for taking action to fight climate change, but for doing it in a bipartisan manner.

In looking at the vote tallies on the bill that created this workgroup, I was surprised—pleasantly surprised—at how many legislators put aside partisanship to agree that climate change is happening and we have a responsibility to do something about it.

I also want to thank all of the people here today for showing their support for climate action. Since I know many of the folks here will not have the opportunity to speak, I’d like to ask everyone in the audience who is ready for climate action now to please stand up.

{Note: The entire audience you see in this picture got on their feet at this point!}

CLEW Hearing

As you can see, we have the popular will.  We have the legislative will. And with theconsultants’ report, we have a road map forward.  Now it’s time to get it done.

Current projections on the local impacts of sea level rise due to climate change show that half of Harbor Island, along with large parts of Georgetown and South Park, will be underwater in 30 years if we fail to act.  These are sobering facts.On my way here tonight, I looked over at Harbor Island, home of Seattle’s port, the 7th largest port in this country and a key driver of the entire State of Washington’s economy—on both sides of the mountains.

But while confronting climate change is an economic challenge, it is also an economic opportunity. Let’s make sure that the technological innovations that will be key to fighting climate change are developed here, in the State of Washington.

And while the amount of climate pollution we produce here in Washington is relatively modest on a global scale, our state can have an outsized impact, relative to our size, by showing leadership in confronting these challenges, as well as in our tenacity in developing solutions.

It will be important to remember that climate impacts are likely to fall disproportionally on our most vulnerable: the poor, elderly, and infirm; on our farmworkers and communities of color.

Whatever the state does to fight climate change, it will be essential that we keep these populations in mind, both for the disproportionate impacts that will befall them as well as for the opportunities created by our work on climate solutions.

Passing good climate policy here, as recommended by your non-biased consultant, will be meaningless if we allow Washington to become a way-station for fossil fuel exports.  I know that the export question is not your task here today, but it’s fundamental to our ultimate goals.  Do not allow fossil fuels to be exported from our state.

Finally, as the consultants’ report shows, there is no silver bullet here.  While a price on carbon or carbon cap is essential, those policies alone won’t get us where we need to be.  Now is the time to think comprehensively, across all policy sectors.

In addition to innovation, solutions to our transit problems, urban design, building codes, and a host of other areas will also be required.  We can’t afford to leave any stones unturned in this effort.

So with that, I’d like to thank you once again.  A lot is riding on the decisions you will make.  Fortunately, the consultant’s report helps make those decisions easier.  And as you move forward, I want to reiterate that you have a strong partner in the people and government of the City of Seattle.


*Footnote:  The greenhouse gas emissions targets outlined by the Legislature in 2008 are as follows:

(i) By 2020, reduce overall emissions of greenhouse gases in the state to 1990 levels;

(ii) By 2035, reduce overall emissions of greenhouse gases in the state to twenty-five percent below 1990 levels;

(iii) By 2050, the state will do its part to reach global climate stabilization levels by reducing overall emissions to fifty percent below 1990 levels, or seventy percent below the state’s expected emissions that year.