OLYMPIA — The three West Coast governors and the premier of British Columbia signed an agreement Monday to jointly attack climate change by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.
The accord calls for Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia to “account for the costs of carbon pollution,” which could include cap-and-trade programs or a tax on carbon emissions.
“We have a joint goal … to make sure that our one and only atmosphere is no longer allowed to be an unlimited dump for carbon polluters,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a news conference in San Francisco.
The agreement says Washington “will set binding limits on carbon emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those limits,” while the other states and British Columbia will pursue their own carbon-reduction strategies.
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However, Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Inslee, said the agreement is a statement of intent, not a legally binding obligation.
Cap-and-trade programs typically limit the amount of greenhouse gases that industries can emit, and set up a market for companies to buy or sell credits, depending on whether their emissions are above or below the cap.
The leaders — Inslee, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and B.C. Premier Christy Clark — also committed to adopting low-carbon fuel standards and promoting the use of electric cars.
Inslee has previously indicated support for a cap-and-trade program in Washington state.
At a meeting earlier this month, the governor noted Washington would fall short of its goals to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions if it did not pursue such an approach.
“That shows the necessity, in my view, of having a belt-and-suspenders, economywide approach to capping emissions in this state,” Inslee said.
The Washington Legislature in 2008 passed a law calling for the state to reduce total greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.
The governor could face resistance to such proposals as cap and trade, particularly from the Republican-led majority in the state Senate.
“To simply say we’re going to reduce carbon could put our manufacturers at a serious disadvantage compared to other states, like South Carolina, that we’re competing with today,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee.
Boeing has operations in South Carolina including a factory where 787 fuselage sections are fabricated and complete jets are assembled and delivered.
California already has a cap-and-trade system in place. British Columbia adopted a revenue-neutral carbon tax in 2008 that’s designed to encourage individuals and industry to use less fossil fuel and reduce carbon emissions.
According to a B.C. minister of finance Web page, every dollar generated by the tax is returned to residents through reductions in other taxes, including a cut in the income-tax rate for low-income individuals and a reduction in business taxes.
This isn’t the first attempt at a regional approach to climate change.
Several years ago, seven Western states and three Canadian provinces created the Western Climate Initiative. One of their proposals was a cap-and-trade system, but the effort fell apart when all the states, except California, eventually pulled out of the coalition, in part because of political opposition.
Inslee has made climate change one of his top priorities since taking office this year.
The Legislature, at Inslee’s request, created the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup to recommend ways to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in order to meet the state targets.
The panel has been meeting since May and has several more meetings in Olympia this year to try to hash out recommendations to both Inslee and the Legislature.
There are two Republicans and two Democrats on the panel. At least three members are required to agree on any recommendation. Inslee is a nonvoting member.
Ericksen contends Inslee is moving too fast with the West Coast agreement, noting that part of the work group’s mission is to look at the economic impact of policies before moving ahead.
“We don’t know what the impact of a cap-and-trade (program) or a carbon tax would be upon manufacturers like Boeing,” Ericksen said.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or email@example.com. Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.