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Originally published Sunday, April 25, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Guest columnist

Federal climate legislation is needed now

Congress must act soon on climate-change legislation to augment existing efforts and encourage more local action toward solutions, write guest columnists Mike Kreidler and Jorge Carrasco.

Special to The Times

AFTER a bruising health-care battle, Congress faces an urgent policy imperative and a golden economic opportunity: comprehensive energy and climate legislation. Congress should not approach this issue timidly. Now is the time for action, and small tweaks to our current energy strategy are not sufficient.

We're not asking Congress to do it all. As the state insurance commissioner and the superintendent of Washington's largest public utility, we've made important progress in our jurisdictions already.

Insurance commissioners are focused intently on climate impacts and risks, which threaten the availability and affordability of property insurance. To address these risks, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners published the Implications of Climate Change on Insurance Regulation, which calls for a strong federal climate policy to reduce climate risks. We need that policy now.

Climate is a core business issue for Northwest utilities like Seattle City Light, which depends on hydropower. Snowpack in the mountains stores the fuel for our power supplies. Warmer temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns and shrinking glaciers threaten our hydroelectric resources. We have a responsibility to our customers to protect this valuable resource. That's why City Light became the first electric utility to achieve greenhouse-gas neutrality, starting in 2005.

As important as state and local climate action is, it cannot substitute for federal policy. The United States is alone among the world's advanced economies in having no national climate policy. The world cannot achieve climate solutions with the United States of America standing on the sidelines.

This isn't just about international diplomacy; it's about the health of our communities and our economy. Many Washington residents suffer human and economic consequences when declining snowpack impairs our power, food and water systems.

Extreme, costly weather events are becoming more frequent — like the floods that have submerged I-5 in recent years and the devastating, low summer flows in our rivers. Climate change is contributing to insect infestations and more harmful forest fires. While no single event can be definitively blamed on the long-term climate trend, the pattern is exactly what scientists tell us to expect as the region warms.

Climate and energy policy is also an urgent near-term economic imperative.

Clean energy is emerging as the most dynamic and competitive sector in the global economy. Without a national climate policy, the U.S. is playing with one hand tied behind its back. While our economy struggles, we spend billions of dollars importing fossil fuels. About $16 billion of Washington consumers' spending on imported oil and gas went outside the state.

And while China, India, Europe and Japan adopt strong policies to compete in the clean-energy economy, America is falling behind the pack, losing more jobs as our economic leadership erodes.

Congress may be reluctant to take on another big, complicated issue after health care. But the core climate and energy issues are relatively simple, and they cannot wait: Do we have the will to break our addiction to fossil fuels and build a clean-energy future? Will we put responsible, science-based limits on climate pollution, with real accountability for results?

The transition to a new energy future won't be easy, but it's the right thing to do.

Mike Kreidler, left, is the Washington state insurance commissioner. Jorge Carrasco is superintendent of Seattle City Light.

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