Two-thirds of natural gas in the country comes from fracking, which emits enough methane to rival the climate impacts of coal. Why follow two steps forward on climate with one step backward?

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GOV. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Ecology released the final Clean Air Rule that will reduce climate pollution from the major sources in our state. It’s a good first step, but our rapidly changing climate requires more decisive action, particularly from our utilities.

This rule was the primary regulatory tool available to limit the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions, after the state Legislature repeatedly failed to step up and give voters the climate policy they’ve been demanding for years. The Clean Air Rule will require a 1.7-percent reduction in emissions each year by 2020. That’s a start, but in a world that is already seeing increased coastal flooding, more needs to be done to avoid the worst of the catastrophic effects of global climate change.

Despite the rule’s shortcomings, it succeeds in recognizing and regulating the biggest looming climate threat in the state — so-called “natural” gas. Puget Sound Energy, which provides electricity to more than 1 million homes in the Puget Sound area and natural gas to 750,000 customers, currently gets 35 percent of its energy from the Colstrip coal plant in Eastern Montana, one of the dirtiest power plants this side of the Mississippi River. To the utility’s credit, PSE announced in July that it would retire Colstrip units 1 and 2 by 2022, if not sooner.

Unfortunately, PSE’s current plans call for swapping one fossil fuel for another, with gas-fired power plants replacing coal. Natural gas lacks the same level of soot and particulate matter that makes coal such a hazard to public health, but it still has significant greenhouse-gas emissions, whether that’s methane that escapes during extraction and transport or carbon emitted when it is burned.

Why follow two steps forward on climate with one step backward?”

Why follow two steps forward on climate with one step backward? And why should Washingtonians who strongly support climate action buy into gas-fired power-plant infrastructure that will be with us for decades?

PSE has plenty of better options for replacing the power at Colstrip. Montana is awash in wind, ranking second in the nation in wind-power potential but only 20th in installed capacity. Commercial-scale solar there also is on the rise.

In Western Washington, we can reduce demand through more robust energy efficiency measures — retrofitting older buildings with smart meters, new windows or more insulation and requiring more energy efficiency in new buildings, for example.

These options aren’t just better for the environment than gas-fired power plants, they create more jobs — skilled, union jobs that can provide career pathways for communities of color and low-income workers in the 21st-century green economy.

The new Clean Air Rule seeks to hold new and existing gas plants accountable for their climate pollution by requiring that they exceed the requirements of the Clean Power Plan, a federal directive with emissions targets that are too modest for Washington state. The Environmental Protection Agency’s targets for Washington under the Clean Power Plan are so weak that they would have generated lots of extra credits that would be sold to other states in lieu of meaningful cuts in emissions.

Inslee and state regulators deserve credit for crafting a Clean Air Rule that closes that loophole and recognizes gas as the next major threat to our climate future.

It speaks to the passion of Washington residents that an arcane administrative rule on air quality standards has led to children filing lawsuits and grandmothers launching hunger strikes on the steps of the state Capitol. This kind of civic engagement will be needed in the coming months as PSE decides whether to move forward with plans to build more fossil-fuel infrastructure at a time when wind, solar and other renewable-energy sources are getting cheaper and more efficient with every passing day.

With this rule, state regulators did their part to address carbon emissions from our energy grid. Now it’s on utilities and their ratepayers to transition Washington state to a low-carbon future.