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Governor's town hall on climate change draws tribal protesters

Protesters at Gov. Jay Inslee’s town hall on climate change at the University of Washington in Seattle said the governor’s actions don’t live up to his stirring words.

“I think that he knows how to sound pretty,” Pamela Chelalakem Bond of Bothell said. The Snohomish tribal member and other protesters in cedar hats and “No LNG in 253” T-shirts played Native drums and rattles before Inslee spoke and shouted back angrily at him as he did.

Inslee called climate change an “existential threat to civilization as we know it.”

Despite the Trump administration’s dismantling of federal action on climate change, the governor said he is optimistic.

“We have control of our own destiny here in the state of Washington,” he said. “We have done some very progressive things, leading the country and the world to control carbon pollution that is damaging our future here in our state.”

“Donald Trump cannot stop us,” Inslee said.

He said his goal was to “de-carbonize” the economy as fast as possible, but he said it would take time to reduce the state’s demand for fossil fuels.

Protesters more focused on the supply of fossil fuels — especially new infrastructure like pipelines and Puget Sound Energy’s proposed liquid natural gas plant at the Port of Tacoma — weren’t buying it.

“I don’t think you understand that we don’t have time,” Bond said to Inslee. “We don’t need to wean off anything. We need to cut them off,” she said of fossil-fuel projects proposed for the state.

“I feel like we’re in a catastrophe and no politicians are getting anything done,” Bond said afterward, shortly before the activists stacked their placards of breaching orcas in the back of a pickup truck.

Wednesday’s event followed three similar town halls at Bellevue College, Green River College and Western Washington University.

At least at this town hall, there were no voices calling for less action on climate change.

Todd Myers with the free-market-oriented Washington Policy Center has said Inslee’s claims of leading the nation on climate change are overblown and that the state is failing to meet its own emission targets.

For years, Republicans in the state Senate blocked Inslee’s efforts to cap carbon emissions statewide. In response, the governor imposed a more-limited cap on emissions from the state’s biggest polluters in 2015. It came into effect this year. Inslee himself opposed a climate-friendly ballot measure last year that would have taxed carbon emissions and lowered other taxes.

“The governor and his allies have failed to act or killed efforts to meet climate goals because tax increases were more important than the climate ‘leadership’ the governor claims to exhibit,” Myers writes.

Federal energy data show 20 states reducing their carbon emissions more than Washington state since the year 2000. According to the Energy Information Administration, nine states had lower carbon emissions per person than Washington in 2014.

Chris Davis with the governor’s office said that Washington is “pretty close” to on track to meet its mandate to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020. He said the state is not on track to reduce those emissions another 25 percent by 2035 or to make the steeper reductions outlined in last year’s Paris climate accords.

“Achieving those goals don’t get you to Paris. They’re sort of outdated,” Davis said.

After enduring the protesters’ complaints and listening to their questions, the governor told the audience at the university’s longhouse-style auditorium that the state’s targets are too weak and he’ll ask the legislature to make them tougher.

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