A group of six taxpayers has filed a lawsuit to invalidate an executive order issued by Gov. Chris Gregoire last year.
“We believe Gov. Gregoire’s climate change executive order is an unconstitutional order,” said Michael Reitz, director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s Constitutional Law Center, who represents the taxpayers in this case. “Gov. Gregoire violated the doctrine of separation of powers by snatching a failed bill out of the legislative process and issuing it in the form of an executive order. If the governor wants to pass laws, she’s in the wrong branch of government.”
During the 2009 legislative session, the Washington State Legislature considered a bill from Gov. Gregoire that addressed climate change issues. Despite vocal support from the governor, SB 5735 did not pass out of the Legislature.
Undeterred, on May 21, 2009, Gov. Gregoire issued Executive Order 09-05, entitled “Washington’s Leadership on Climate Change,” ordering the Departments of Ecology and Transportation to take action to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and increase transportation and fuel-conservation options. In a press release the governor claimed the executive order would produce environmental and economic benefits: “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.
Gov. Gregoire stressed that Executive Order 09-05 was intended to replace her failed legislation. At her press conference, Gregoire said, “What we’ve done in the executive order is everything that was in that final bill — plus. Plus. There’s more in the executive order than what was in the final bill that did not pass the Legislature.”
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation and its clients argue Gov. Gregoire lacks authority to take the actions described in the order. “Governors are free to issue executive orders, but the order is enforceable only if the governor is expressly empowered by the constitution or by statute,” Reitz said. “For example, state law permits the governor to declare a state of emergency after a natural disaster. All other executive orders are mere policy statements or voluntary directives to state agencies and are considered unenforceable.”
Reitz continued: “We have democratic process for a reason. The people of this state expect their lawmakers and elected officials to follow the law just like anyone else. The governor shouldn’t bypass the Legislature, regardless of her objectives.”
The individual taxpayers suing the governor are Dr. Sterling A. Hill of Kent, Pat and Sandy Tarzwell of Shelton, Cindy Marshall of Otis Orchards, Matt Erickson of Wenatchee and Jim Wolfe of Pasco.
The complaint was filed in Thurston County Superior Court.