Leadership . . . or Spin? The governor on climate change.

Posted by Rachel Culbertson
Evergreen Freedom Foundation

- September 30, 2010

Olympia, WA When Governor Chris Gregoire issued her executive order on climate change last year, she hyped it in glowing terms, claiming it demonstrated Washington’s commitment to solving climate change.

So why are her lawyers downplaying its importance?

As you may recall, when the governor’s cap-and-trade bill (SB 5735) failed in the 2009 legislative session, Gregoire took many of the proposals from the bill and issued them as Executive Order 09-05.

The Executive Order was titled “Washington’s Leadership on Climate Change,” directing state actions to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions. The intent section stated: “WHEREAS, effective and immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – preferably at the federal level but at the regional or state level as necessary – is essential to the future well being of all Washingtonians.”

In her press release, Gov. Gregoire highlighted the impact of her order: “This executive order benefits our economy as much as our environment. It will protect our natural resources, while creating thousands of green-collar jobs and strengthening our state’s competitiveness in the global race for a clean energy economy.” She also stressed the need for immediate action. “We as a nation and a state must address climate change today. Tomorrow is too late.”

Others praised Gregoire’s strong leadership. "I want to commend the governor for her tenacity and leadership in pushing forward on our state response to climate change," said Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island). “This executive order is a significant step forward. Where the legislature faltered, the governor didn't give up."

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation represents six taxpayers who argue the governor’s order is an improper invasion of the legislative process.

Despite the high praise for Gregoire’s Order, the State’s legal filings tell a different story. Gregoire’s lawyers argue that the Order imposes no new regulations, responsibilities, or obligation. Rather, they say, it’s a mere directive to her own agencies and is completely unenforceable in a court of law. For example:

* “There is nothing in the Executive Order expressing intent on the part of the Governor to order her agencies to act outside of their legislative authorities. Nor is there anything in the Order imposing new requirements on persons regulated by the state.” Page 3.
* “In addition, the Executive Order does not create new obligations. It simply directs the governor's cabinet agencies to develop strategies and recommendations and plans.” Page 6.
* “[The order] does not purport to grant authority for any agency to impose new requirements upon third parties, nor does it direct the agencies to establish new requirements.” Page 7.
* “[A]s a policy statement and directive there is nothing in the Order itself that makes its requests enforceable by a third party against the agencies.” Page 7.
* “Third parties have no ability to force an agency to carry out the Order's directives because the directives do not have the force and effect of law.” Page 8.

So which is it: a job-creating, snowcap-freezing, economy-fixing, courageous Order . . . or a mere inter-agency memo? I guess it depends on who you ask.