Though the wildfire-induced haze shrouding much of Western Washington this week began to fade by Thursday morning — if only temporarily — Gov. Jay Inslee expressed his concern over what the future may hold.
Backed by children outside Lawton Elementary School in Magnolia, the governor was one of several to make the case for Initiative 1631, with the general election now just months away.
“Today this smoke may be opaque,” he said, “but when it comes to children’s health, it has made something very clear, and that is the state of Washington needs to pass this clean air initiative so these children can breathe clean air.”
If passed, the measure would institute a fee on carbon emissions — $15 per ton in 2020, with a $2 per ton (plus inflation) increase each year— and invest most of the resulting revenue in new clean energy infrastructure. A quarter would go toward clean water and forestry efforts, with the remaining 5 percent for “healthy community” investments.
“We believe polluters should pay for their pollution, not the average citizens, and it requires the polluters to pay,” Inslee said. “That’s a fair thing.”
The crux of Thursday’s remarks, however, were about the potential environmental impacts of the measure, in light of the drastic drop in air quality in recent days.
Dr. Ken Lans, president of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, said that the smoke in the air “should weigh heavily on our mind just as it does on our lungs.”
“As a physician, I know that human beings cannot thrive without a healthy living environment,” he said. “This week, due to unhealthy air, we’ve all needed to think twice about taking our kids out for a walk, or letting them play outside.”
Initiative 1631, he said, would mark a “huge step forward toward cleaning up our air.”
“Washington can build a different path, that tackles climate change, prevents more pollution like we’ve seen this week, and by doing that improves the health of all of our citizens,” Lans said.
Dr. David Naimi of the Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center said the clear link between bad air quality and poor health outcomes should be an impetus to take action.
“It’s a visceral reminder — days like this — of the interrelationship between our own health and the health of our environment,” he said. “Those two things are intertwined, and I think we need to, as a community and as a city, we need to remember that, and that we can do something about it.”
But it’s not just wildfire smoke that causes problems.
“It’s affecting us every day, from oil refineries, diesel exhaust and fumes coming off our highways,” said Yes on 1631 campaign manager Abigail Doerr.
Inslee also took aim at recent comments made by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who implicated “environmental terrorist groups” for creating the conditions that enabled devastating wildfires in California.
“[He] would flunk any single science test these kids get As on. … He would have a dunce cap put on his head if he was at Lawton Elementary School,” Inslee said. “Because the science we are teaching our children is abundantly clear. There’s some pretty simple things, in some sense — this isn’t rocket science. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and where there is climate change, and hotter, drier forests, guess what you get, Mr. Zinke: You get more forest fires. What is it about that that you can’t comprehend?”
There’s also little doubt in the governor’s mind that environmental progress will have to come at the state-level.
“These children know they’re not going to get help from the White House,” he said. "They know that where they’re going to get help is people voting for Initiative 1631. That’s who’s going to save these children’s health.”