After withdrawing an earlier proposal, Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration is pushing ahead with a revised Clean Air Rule that would cut greenhouse- gas emissions in Washington but give some concessions to industry.

Share story

With some concessions to business concerns, Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration is pushing ahead with a plan to force greenhouse-gas cuts by some 70 of the state’s biggest industrial emitters.

The state Department of Ecology on Wednesday rolled out a new Clean Air Rule, replacing a draft withdrawn by the agency in February after criticism from industry and environmentalists.

Like the earlier proposal, the rule would require dozens of affected industries — ranging from Anacortes oil refineries to Boeing’s Everett plant and an Othello food processor — to reduce carbon emissions by an average 1.7 percent a year.

They could do that by cleaning up their own facilities or other actions, such as paying for carbon-reduction projects elsewhere.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

The rule, to take effect in January, would apply initially to more than 20 facilities releasing at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon emissions and expand to others over time as the threshold is lowered. It would ease the burden on some industries, such as aluminum producers, by delaying compliance and giving credit for past energy-efficiency investments.

Inslee has made fighting climate change a cornerstone of his administration, but his biggest proposals, including an ambitious California-style cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon emissions, have failed to pass the Legislature.

In response, Inslee, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, has vowed to achieve his goals through executive-branch rule making.

State officials Wednesday said the new clean-air rule would move the state closer to its target of cutting emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels, to about 66 million metric tons, by 2035.

Under current state policy, total emissions that year would reach 94 million metric tons. Adoption of the clean-air rule would lower that to an estimated 74 million metric tons — meaning additional actions would be needed for the state to reach its goal.

“Carbon pollution has reached rampant levels and we’re committed to capping and reducing it,” Sarah Rees, the Ecology department’s special assistant on climate-change policy, said during a conference call with reporters.

The cost to emitters is projected at $1.4 billion to $2.8 billion over 20 years, but state officials said the benefits of a cleaner environment would outweigh those costs.

Ecology officials said they had no estimate on how much more consumers could expect to pay at the gasoline pump and on electric bills. But they described the impact as “relatively small.”

In a joint news release, several environmental groups praised the new plan.

“While there is still room for improvement, it’s good to see the Dept. of Ecology taking steps in the right direction,” said Vlad Gutman, Washington director of Climate Solutions. “Ultimately, we need the Legislature to take comprehensive action to address pollution in Washington.”

A Kaiser Aluminum spokesman was “cautiously optimistic,” saying the latest version of the rule had eased some concerns that overly strict regulations might push manufacturers to another state or overseas.

“We are proud of the contribution our employees have already made to reduce our emissions and carbon intensity of our products,” said the statement from spokesman Kyle England.

The firm’s Spokane-area aluminum mill has cut on-site emissions by 15 percent per pound of aluminum produced since 2010, he said.

Wednesday’s announcement drew criticism from other environmentalists and business representatives.

Andrea Rodgers, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, said she was “extremely disappointed” with the scope of the carbon reductions.

“This doesn’t even come close to fulfilling Ecology’s legal responsibility to protect the constitutional rights of young people in this state,” she said.

Rodgers represented a group of youths who sued the state over enforcement of its clean-air law, and has argued in court that the best science indicates the needs for more aggressive cuts in carbon emissions.

The Association of Washington Business appreciated some of Ecology’s revisions. But in a statement, the group’s president, Kris Johnson, said, “We remain concerned about the potential economic damage that could come from this proposed new layer of regulation.”

The clean-air rule is intended to cover about two-thirds of emissions generated in the state, and includes a series of changes to respond to business concerns.

One revision would give special consideration to power-intensive industries facing major overseas competition. They would get credit if they already are more energy efficient than their industry overall. They also wouldn’t come under regulation until 2020.

Ecology also responded to complaints from electric utilities, including Puget Sound Energy, which worried about complying with the state and a federal clean-power plan from the Obama administration.

The federal rule has been stalled pending a legal challenge. Ecology’s latest draft of the state clean-air rule would allow the utilities to comply with the less stringent federal regulation if it is enacted.

Under the state rule, oil refiners and importers will carry much of the burden of reducing greenhouse gases. Washington oil refineries and fuel importers would be responsible for reducing emissions they produce at their plants, and also the much larger amount of carbon released by vehicles that burn the diesel and gasoline they sell in the state.

Refiners would have several options for reducing those emissions, including investing in projects in Washington state, such as trapping methane gas at landfills or buying carbon credits in out-of-state markets.

Wednesday’s announcement comes amid a deepening divide between Democrats and Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump over climate change that results from burning fossil fuels.

Trump said in a recent energy-policy speech in North Dakota he wants to get the United States out of the international climate agreement reached in December’s Paris talks. He’s pledged to move rapidly ahead with U.S. development of coal, oil and natural-gas resources.

Meanwhile, Inslee and other prominent Democrats have embraced greenhouse-gas regulation and speak of ending reliance on fossil fuels as a moral imperative.

On Wednesday, Inslee was in San Francisco to join California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Vancouver, B.C., Premier Christy Clark in signing a set of aspirational West Coast goals to combat climate change.

“Today is an exciting day in our continuing quest to provide cleaner air for Washingtonians,” Inslee said in an online video posted Wednesday, adding “we’ve got the most beautiful, healthiest place to live in the country, and we ought to keep it that way.”