Calling the fight against global climate change “a moral responsibility,” Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order Tuesday aiming to push Washington closer to a limit on carbon emissions.

The Democratic governor’s rhetoric was urgent and his goals sweeping, but his executive order called for actions to move at a deliberate pace.

Inslee appointed a 21-member task force to help design a “market-based” carbon-reduction plan, such as a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax, to take to the Legislature next year.

Inslee also directed state agencies to further support clean-energy technologies such as solar power, and to work with utilities to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants, some of which comes from out of state. And he ordered a study of possible new clean-fuel standards.

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“This is the right time to act because the facts are clear and they are compelling. Climate change is already upon us because of carbon pollution,” Inslee said during his announcement at Shoreline Community College’s car-repair training center.

Unless climate trends are reversed, Inslee and supporters say, the state will suffer increasingly catastrophic woes, such as intensifying ocean acidification that is threatening the shellfish industry.

The announcement drew quick criticism from a Republican legislative leader, who accused Inslee of sidestepping lawmakers.

State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who chairs the Senate’s committee on energy and environmental issues, said he was irritated Inslee did not share his plans with Republicans in advance.

Ericksen was skeptical of Inslee’s plans and said the governor’s antipathy to fossil fuels “will drive jobs out” of the state “for no reason.”

Inslee, during his announcement, pointed to a 2008 law passed by the Legislature that says the state will cut greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, with deeper reductions in subsequent decades.

“It is the law of the state of Washington … what we are designing is the tools,” Inslee said.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said Republicans should not be surprised by Inslee’s proposal, which follows the outlines of a plan Inslee and Democrats floated to a legislative climate-study panel that included Ericksen.

“This has been a very public process, and for anybody to say they were surprised — they need to pull their head out of the sand,” Ranker said.

But Ericksen, who called the 2008 law’s emission limits “goals,” said Inslee’s talk of carbon pollution was “loaded language,” adding that “carbon is a natural process.” Asked whether he believed global climate change described by scientists is real, Ericksen said his own views were “irrelevant.”

Ericksen said Washington’s impact on greenhouse- gas emissions is too minuscule to make a difference.

Inslee said Washington should not wait for other states or nations to act. “Wrecking our future and our home with carbon pollution is just wrong, no matter what anybody else does,” he said.

Last year, Inslee signed an agreement with the governors of California and Oregon, and the premier of British Columbia, in which he pledged to push for limits on carbon emissions and other actions to combat climate change.

But lawmakers here have balked at sweeping climate legislation before.

In 2009, the Legislature nixed a plan by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire to implement a cap-and-trade policy, which would have required industries to cut greenhouse-gas emissions below a certain limit, or buy extra permits in a marketplace.

Inslee also took a cautious step Tuesday toward a clean-fuel standard in Washington state, ordering the Office of Financial Management to conduct a feasibility study and a cost-benefit analysis. A low-carbon fuel standard would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars, but opponents argue it could raise gas prices.

Republicans in the Legislature have been suspicious that Inslee might abruptly impose a costly low-carbon fuel standard by executive order.

Inslee said he does have that authority. But he said his administration will carefully examine the costs and benefits before moving forward.

Inslee’s 21-person Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force includes representatives of business, unions, environmental organizations, utilities and immigration advocates.

The co-chairs are Ada Healey, vice president at Vulcan Real Estate, and environmental attorney Rod Brown of Cascadia Law Group.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner