Wash. Gov. Inslee pushes forward carbon cap

Source: Elizabeth Harball, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, August 17, 2015

In a move that mirrors President Obama’s recent executive action on climate change, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is pushing forward a cap on carbon emissions under the state’s Clean Air Act after failing to convince the Legislature to approve a market-based program last year.

The new proposal would not require legislative action, according to David Postman, a spokesman for the governor.

Postman added that Inslee’s proposal is not necessarily designed to allow Washington to participate in an interstate emissions trading program under the Clean Power Plan, although he didn’t discount that possibility. In the final version of the Obama administration’s plan to restrict power plant carbon emissions, emissions trading between states is encouraged.

“We are implementing a cap to reduce emissions here, and whether it can [be] part of a multi-state trading program remains to be seen,” Postman said in an email. “The governor’s proposal was not prompted by the White House clean power rule, but we do see it as [complementary] to that effort.”

In a letter sent Thursday to Maia Bellon, director of the Washington Department of Ecology, Inslee directed the state agency to develop a rule to cap the state’s carbon emissions, urging it to be adopted “as quickly as possible.”

“We need to act purposefully and swiftly to reduce the threats posed by climate change to health, safety and economic prosperity for Washingtonians,” Inslee wrote.

Late last year, the governor introduced the market-based “Carbon Pollution Accountability Act,” but the 2015 Legislature didn’t move forward with the proposal (ClimateWire, Dec. 18, 2014).

In a July announcement, Inslee said that unlike his earlier proposal, the cap wouldn’t force emitters to pay a price for emissions and so wouldn’t provide revenue for the state. It would allow greenhouse gas sources to trade emissions credits with each other, but it wouldn’t involve a centralized trading market.

The governor also knocked the Washington state Senate’s decision to reject his earlier proposal, calling it “a terrible choice.”

In the letter sent last week, the governor offered a few additional details on how such a program would work. The cap would decline over time and would apply to the state’s biggest carbon emitters, including transportation, manufacturing and energy production.

The governor further told Bellon to “engage with the potentially affected parties from the earliest stages of your work” as well as the state Energy, Transportation and Climate Subcabinet.

He added that affected emissions sources must “have a variety of compliance options available to them in order to keep compliance costs low.”

Sidestepping a ‘poison pill’?

Washington state Sens. Sharon Brown (R) of Kennewick and Tim Sheldon (D) of Potlatch on Thursday wrote an op-ed in the Tacoma News Tribune opposing Inslee’s action, hinting that it would face legal opposition.

“Somehow the governor has gotten the notion he can implement this scheme without a vote of the Legislature or the people, and odds are the lawyers will argue that question for years,” the state senators wrote.

In the op-ed, Brown and Sheldon did not deny that global warming, ocean acidification, forest fires and drought are issues faced by the state of Washington. But the two argued that “rather than enacting a punitive and expensive scheme,” the state should instead overhaul its renewable energy law and promote the use of “small, modular nuclear reactors.”

As a heavy hydropower user, the bulk of Washington’s emissions are from transportation. The governor’s move may sidestep what the he called a “poison pill” in the $16 transportation spending package he recently signed. The package included a provision that would have taken money away from non-road transportation projects if the governor moved forward with a low-carbon fuel standard, explained Bruce Speight, Environment Washington’s executive director.

“Rather than triggering the ‘poison pill’ by enacting a low-carbon fuels standard, he instead went the route of this directive to the Department of Ecology,” explained Speight.

Speight said Washington’s transportation sector must be addressed if the state is to lower its emissions profile, but he was unclear how the governor’s carbon cap would rein in emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles.

“If we really want to tackle carbon emissions, we need to come up with a strategy to reduce vehicle miles traveled, and the package that just passed failed on that account,” he said.