Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration has slowed down on a proposed rule limiting carbon emissions by major industries. The Department of Ecology withdrew its proposal Friday, saying it would draft a new version in coming months.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration is hitting the pause button on a rule capping carbon emissions in Washington state.
The state Department of Ecology on Friday withdrew the proposed Clean Air Rule, with officials saying they’ll rewrite it in coming months to address criticisms and feedback from businesses and environmentalists.
The carbon regulation, touted by Inslee and supporters as a major action on climate change, would have required the state’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases — from power plants to refineries and manufacturers — to gradually cut emissions over the coming decades.
That goal has not changed. Ecology officials said the agency intends to release a revised proposal for public comment this spring, with final adoption targeted for late summer.
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“We want to have more time to work with folks to figure out a way to address those concerns and make it a better rule,” said Sarah Rees, Ecology’s special assistant on climate change policy.
Jaime Smith, an Inslee spokeswoman, said the governor supports the pause. “He’d rather see the rule done right than done quickly,” she said.
The rule, formally proposed last month, would have applied initially to 23 entities producing 100,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases per year, including power plants, natural-gas distributors and oil refineries.
That eventually would have expanded to cover six dozen factories, mills, fuel importers and other facilities, from the Boise Paper mill in Walla Walla County to Boeing’s Everett manufacturing plant.
Some of those businesses weighed in, arguing the regulation would unfairly burden them — and possibly cause some to consider relocating.
Brandon Houskeeper, a lobbyist with the Association of Washington Business — which has generally opposed Inslee’s climate initiatives — said the group had warned the governor’s office the regulation was moving too fast.
“We cautioned them that the timeline they were on would cause them to make mistakes, and I think that their withdrawal of the rule today was their acknowledgment that there are problems with it,” he said.
Representatives of dozens of companies, including Weyerhaeuser, Ash Grove Cement and Nucor Steel, wrote in a Jan. 29 letter to Ecology they were “very disappointed” about the rule’s potential effect on their businesses, which have large power demands and face global competition.
Failure to address their concerns “could result in some of these sectors looking to other jurisdictions with more favorable manufacturing regulatory policies,” the letter said.
Some electric utilities chimed in too, arguing they’ve already worked hard to reduce their impact on the climate. In a December letter, a Puget Sound Energy executive told Ecology the entire power sector “should be excluded” from the clean-air rule.
Environmental advocates, who have praised Inslee’s efforts to hasten a transition to a clean-energy economy, also critiqued the draft rule, arguing it might not be effective enough in cutting emissions.
Vlad Gutman, state director for Climate Solutions, said the group made several suggestions for improvements, including an economywide cap on emissions and a limit on the ability of companies to buy carbon offsets instead of actually cutting their own emissions.
Such changes required a rewrite, Gutman said, so Climate Solutions backed the decision to pull back the initial draft. “We support this step, and think it’s a good thing to do,” he said.
Ecology plans revisions that include clarifying how firms can comply with any emissions rule and considerations for manufacturers whose products face global competition, the agency said in a news release.
Washington would not be alone in seeking regulations to cap or tax carbon emissions that scientists blame for worsening global warming. California adopted a cap-and-trade system in 2006 under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. British Columbia has had a carbon tax in place since 2008.
Inslee has attempted to get Washington state to join that West Coast bloc, but has been frustrated by legislative inaction. He directed Ecology last July to develop the emissions limit, calling carbon pollution and climate change an “existential threat to our state.”
The move came after the failure of the Democratic governor’s proposal for a California-style cap-and-trade system. That plan had faced heavy opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate and also failed to pass the Democratic-majority state House.
Lawmakers also blocked Inslee’s efforts to adopt a clean-fuel standard aimed at reducing pollution from gasoline-burning cars — the single largest source of carbon emissions.
Republicans have continued to try to impede Inslee’s green agenda in the current legislative session.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Whatcom County, this week inserted an amendment into a bipartisan solar-incentive bill that would immediately end the incentives if the state adopts any emissions cap.
Ericksen said he worries a rewritten clean-air rule might be made worse if it seeks to carve out some industries. “The more you exempt, the harsher you have to be with those remaining,” he said.
The solar legislation, House Bill 2346, passed the House on a 77-20 vote. It is the product of years of negotiation, said its chief sponsor, Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon.
Morris said the solar bill should not get tangled in the political fight over the clean-air rule.
“I’m choosing not to be drawn into the drama,” Morris said. “I would hope the carbon rhetoric between the Senate and the governor would not be included in what is finally adopted.”