Taking a page from President Barack Obama, Gov. Jay Inslee is bypassing reluctant lawmakers to combat climate change through regulation. But he opted against pursuing a low-carbon fuel standard that would have jeopardized mass-transit funding.
The Democratic governor told his administration Tuesday to develop a cap on emissions of greenhouse gases so Washington can meet its commitment to cut 1990-level emissions in half by 2050.
“We have limits that the state is supposed to meet for total emissions, and nothing on the books to force reductions so we can meet those standards,” Inslee spokesman David Postman said.
The Legislature set the standards in 2008 but never followed with restrictions. In this year’s legislative sessions totaling a marathon 176 days, neither the Democratic House nor the Republican Senate passed a proposal by Inslee to tax large sources of emissions.
Inslee still prefers that plan, a cap-and-trade program that would have raised $1 billion a year for the state and set up a market for polluters to buy and sell credits. He said Tuesday it was still an option but that he couldn’t wait any longer.
So Inslee is shifting to executive action, just as the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules for greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants after Congress wouldn’t enact a cap-and-trade system.
The state’s version of the Clean Air Act allows the Department of Ecology to set emissions standards, and Inslee directed the agency to use that authority on carbon emissions. The authority doesn’t extend to raising revenue or auctioning off credits, although emitters might still be able to trade credits in some way, his office said.
Still to be decided is who would be covered under the plan. Inslee’s original legislative proposal covered about 130 large facilities and fuel distributors that cause the release of more than 25,000 metric tons of heat-trapping gases in a year. It would have made exceptions for industries such as agriculture.
Inslee’s rule must go through a year or more of development and vetting, and it will face a skeptical reception from business groups.
“We’re disappointed that he’s chosen to take yet another route that doesn’t include business-oriented solutions,” said Brandon Houskeeper, a lobbyist with the Association of Washington Business.
Houskeeper said the AWB supports solutions, such as a plan advanced by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, that passed the Senate. It would have given electrical utilities that currently are required to buy wind power and other renewable energy a way to avoid that voter-imposed mandate by reducing emissions.
Environmentalists cheered Inslee for what they said was a bold move to combat climate change.
“This summer’s fire, drought and heat are really showing us what’s at stake,” said Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council.
In settling on his strategy, Inslee decided not to pursue a clean-fuels regulation that would encourage alternative transportation fuels.
In so doing, he avoided what some have called a “poison pill” in the $16 billion transportation spending package that the Legislature passed this month. Added at the behest of the Republican-majority Senate, the provision would have canceled bike, trail and mass-transit funding if a governor started work on a clean-fuels standard.