People in glass houses | Don Brunell

There’s an old saying that people living in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.  The moral is that before criticizing others, you should make sure your own house is in order.

Companies, such as REI, supporting Gov. Inslee’s climate change legislation should heed that advice.

REI is an iconic Northwest retailer of high-end outdoor gear popular with nature enthusiasts and millennials.

REI has been a big booster of Gov. Inslee’s climate change agenda which pits Washington businesses against one another.  The company hosted the governor’s rollout of his proposals and REI officials testified in legislative hearings in support of Inslee’s cap-and-trade program.

Inslee’s original proposal targeted 130 Washington facilities – the so-called “Dirty 130” – which produce carbon emissions above a certain amount. Fuel suppliers have since been dropped from the list, paring the target list down to 80 or 90 facilities.

Under Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal, Washington facilities on his list would be required to purchase increasingly costly allowances to continue operating.   Those allowances, which opponents call a “tax on energy,” are estimated to cost our state’s employers $1.3 billion per year in 2017, growing steadily to $2.2 billion per year by 2026.

Those new costs would put our manufacturers at an added disadvantage to foreign competitors who supply outdoor clothes, hiking boots and tents to companies like REI.

Keep in mind that companies manufacturing in Washington today are already operating under some of the most stringent state and federal environmental laws in the world.  Gov. Inslee’s proposal would essentially change the rules and create more uncertainty.

And while proponents characterize those on the list as “the state’s biggest polluters,” the targeted facilities include Boeing; the University of Washington Seattle campus and Washington State University at Pullman; and, WaferTech and REC Silicon, members of Washington’s vaunted clean high-tech industry.

Taxpayers already pay to support the state universities.  Under Inslee’s proposal, we would pay again in the form of higher tuition, home heating and electricity bills.

State officials haven’t said how many thousands of jobs the targeted facilities provide or how adding $1.3 billion a year to their costs could affect Washington’s unemployment rate, which remains stubbornly above the national average – with many counties suffering double-digit joblessness.

Washington is already one of the cleanest and “greenest” states in the nation, and whatever we do will have very little impact on climate change. Remember three-fourths of our electricity comes from hydroelectric plants which do not generate greenhouse gases.

Still, it has been relatively easy for some large retailers to jump on Gov. Inslee’s cap-and-trade bandwagon and testify in support of a $1.3 billion energy tax on “big polluters.” Those companies buy much of their merchandise from overseas manufacturers where many of their products are made in factories powered by coal-fired power plants.

So, it turns out those companies are big polluters as well – just not here.  And they provide thousands of manufacturing jobs – just not here.

When it comes to criticizing Washington manufacturers, it’s easy to throw stones when your own interests aren’t at risk.  Yes, the companies targeted by Inslee’s proposal emit carbon dioxide, but they also produce Washington manufacturing jobs. On the other hand, overseas suppliers often pay workers less, have fewer benefits, and their environmental, health and worker safety protections are weaker.

Some retailers, like Walmart, are shifting back to the USA.  In 2013 Walmart committed to buying $50 billion “Made in America” products in the next decade. Success of the campaign to bring jobs home will depend on productions costs here.

Unfortunately, if Inslee’s cap-and-trade proposal doesn’t make it through the special legislative session, it may become an initiative on the 2016 ballot.