Gov. Jay Inslee directed state officials to create the Clean Air Rule to cap and reduce carbon pollution in Washington. Inslee argues correctly that acting on climate is not only a moral, but also an economic imperative.
WASHINGTON’S economic success hinges on being at the leading edge of new technology. Boeing helped build the aerospace industry, Microsoft transformed personal computing, and Amazon led the way into e-commerce. Designed right, a strong policy to tackle climate change can help ensure that Washington is also at the forefront of the clean energy revolution, instead of following behind other states.
Last summer, in the wake of a legislative session that did less than nothing to address the climate challenge we face, Gov. Jay Inslee decided it was time to act quickly to secure these clean-air benefits for Washington. While the rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula caught fire and Seattle experienced a heat wave unlike any other since temperature tracking began, the Legislature rejected a comprehensive bill to fight climate change. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, lawmakers inserted a poison-pill provision into the transportation package that forced the governor to choose between cleaner, low-carbon fuel standards and crucial transportation investments.
In this context and with an abundance of justifiable frustration, Gov. Inslee directed the Department of Ecology to create the Clean Air Rule, acting within existing authority to cap and reduce carbon pollution in Washington. The governor argues correctly that acting on climate change is not only a moral, but also an economic imperative.
For Washington to reap the benefits of a clean economy, the carbon pollution rule must be effective. In the coming months, the state’s Department of Ecology will release the next draft of the rule. Washington residents should watch closely for important improvements from the draft released earlier this year to see if it represents real leadership on climate and clean energy.
In the new draft, it’s critical:
• That it be modeled on similar successful programs in other places, like California. It should include an overall cap on total pollution emitted by top emitters, and that cap should decline slowly over time. This is necessary to ensure that as we create space for robust business growth, we are not simultaneously increasing harmful emissions. Under the cap, the state should allow trading of emission allowances so that companies best positioned to cut pollution can do so now while protecting jobs.
• It must not inadvertently create incentives for business to move jobs and emissions to other parts of the world. Companies should never receive windfall profits just for cutting production in Washington. As the rule was previously designed, business got credits that could be sold to others for emissions reductions that resulted from lower production, instead of using actual energy efficiency and clean energy improvements that cut pollution.
• If it allows offsets — these are credits companies can purchase for carbon reductions performed by others, in lieu of direct and measured reductions at polluting facilities, the new proposal should minimize loopholes and double-counting that give twice the credit for half the benefit.
These three goals are achievable and fully within Gov. Inslee’s existing legal authority.
The possibility of the Clean Air Rule is exciting, and we appreciate the governor’s leadership in pursuing this option. The stakes are high — a strong rule has the potential to set a national precedent for effective climate action. But a weak rule — with insufficient incentives for swift reductions, wide-open loopholes, or no meaningful emissions cap — threatens the momentum to address runaway pollution elsewhere that impacts Washingtonians.
As the temperatures rise and we see ever more extreme weather that threatens lives and livelihoods, we cannot afford a setback in Washington.
Comprehensive climate policy that limits emissions will not only safeguard our planet for future generations, but also drive expansion of a clean energy sector that already supplies more jobs than the fossil fuel industry. It’s high time we invest in homegrown energy that cleans our air, protects our water, and doesn’t harm public health — both here in Washington and globally.