Washington Gov. Christine GregoireWashington Gov. Christine GregoireWashington state has already surpassed its ambitious goal for creating green jobs, and the rest of the country could see similar results if Congress passes strong energy and climate legislation, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) told the Senate this week.

In 2007, Gregoire set a goal of having 25,000 green jobs in her state by 2020, but that goal has been met in just two years with 47,000 jobs in the state now considered “green,” she said. Washington has also had dramatic success in ramping up its wind power industry; in 2001, virtually none of the state’s power came from wind, but now Washington ranks fifth in the nation in wind production, the governor said. The state is a member of the Western Climate Initiative and has taken steps to curb greenhouse-gas emissions and promote renewables.

Testifying at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Tuesday, Gregoire spoke in support of the energy and climate bill that the House passed last month, though she doesn’t think it’s “a perfect bill.” Among other things, she would like to see the Senate improve the mandates for renewable energy and energy efficiency. The House version merges the two, allowing utilities to meet part of their renewable requirement with efficiency gains, but Gregoire argued that there should be two separate mandates.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to diminish the renewable efforts that we’ve got going in my own home state by giving far too much credit for efficiency,” Gregoire told reporters after the hearing.

The governor said that providing even a small incentive for renewables has helped the sector take off in Washington, noting that a state not known for its sunlight will soon be home to the largest solar photovoltaic plant in the world.

The potential for renewables is enormous, she said. “I’ve seen it in my state, I’ve seen it in other states. We need to have a huge push by Congress so those who are willing to put capital investment in it can see it’s real, that they can depend on it, and they can do it.”

Gregoire was bullish about renewables, but also argued that “everything should be on the table” when it comes to crafting energy policy. “We should be discussing every opportunity for energy production and weaning ourselves away from all foreign production,” she said. “My state alone sends away $16 billion of taxpayer money every year. That’s money that should stay in the pockets of Washingtonians. And we can do it. We can do it by looking at a broad array of energy opportunities for production.”

Grist talked to Gregoire briefly after her testimony:

Grist: Some critics of a national climate and energy plan have said the federal government should let states take steps on their own if they choose, and that we don’t need a federal plan. You talked about the successes that Washington has had on its own. What are the advantages of a national plan for a place like Washington state?

Gregoire: If we want to move forward with a cap-and-trade system, we’re going to have to have it national. One state alone is not going to be successful. I don’t know that one region will necessarily be successful. We need national leadership. We need implementation of a national cap-and-trade. We need to get down on the rhetoric of how we’re disadvantaging one state or region and we all need to be on the same playing field. And we need national standards for renewable energy if we want to make the kind of progress that we need to make as a country, and we need to arm the president with a message to go to Copenhagen [climate talks] that puts America back in a leadership role rather than the embarrassing position we’ve been in for far too many years now.

Grist: Have outcomes in Washington state surprised you?

Gregoire: Who would have ever thought we could set a goal of 25,000 green-collar jobs by 2020 and within two years have 47,000? Who would have thought we could create a little incentive for wind energy and become the fifth-largest producer almost overnight? That shows you how America is ready to capture this issue and move on to solve it.