Washington greenhouse gas emissions edged higher in 2018, according to a new analysis by state officials that tags increased transportation emissions as the major reason for the 1.3% increase from 2017.
Washington emissions in 2018 tallied nearly 99.6 million metric tons. That is more than 9% higher than the emissions target set for 2020 by the Legislature.
Still, state officials are hopeful that the 2020 target will be met when an analysis of the year’s emissions is finally complete. They say emissions probably took a big downturn in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in less driving as some people hunker down in their homes.
“We’re expecting it (greenhouse gas emissions) to drop by 10%,” said Andrew Wineke, a state Department of Ecology official, who noted that a pandemic is a “terrible, horrible” way to cut emissions and that these reductions are not likely to be long-lasting since, as vaccines roll out, more people are expected to return to offices and schools.
Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion and other sources are causing long-term global warming that scientists say will trigger increasingly wide-ranging climatic changes as this century progresses.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee made climate change a key issue in his unsuccessful bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In his third term, Inslee is renewing efforts to pass legislation for greenhouse gas reductions in the state. His agenda for the 2021 session includes another attempt to pass a clean fuel standard to reduce carbon emissions in transportation and caps on emissions from major polluters. Another bill would set 2027 as the date when builders could no longer use natural gas or other fossil fuels for space and water heating in new buildings.
Washington state greenhouse gas emissions peaked two decades ago at more than 108 million metric tons, fell during the Great Recession and have been slowly climbing since 2012.
Wineke said the the 2018 data shows a 2.5% decline in electricity generation compared to 2017. That reflects a shift away from coal-fired power that is required by a state law, which also calls for a longer-term phase-out of carbon emissions released by natural gas power plants.
In 2018, the transportation sector, which includes cars and trucks, aircraft and vessels, accounted for 44.9% of total emissions. That was a 3.3% increase from 2017.
In the decade ahead, the Washington greenhouse gas emissions must drop sharply to meet future legislative targets that call for a statewide total of only 50 million metric tons in 2030 and just 5 million metric tons in 2050.
Wineke said that greenhouse gas target for 2030 could come close to being met by measures already in place in Washington and those that Inslee hopes will gain the approval of the Legislature in the session that started Monday.
On Thursday, the state House Environment and Energy Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1091 to establish a clean fuel standard, which would require oil producers and refiners to either reduce the carbon intensity of gasoline or diesel or invest in cleaner fuels. Under the legislation, the carbon intensity of these fuels by 2035 must be 10% below 2017 levels by 2027 and 20% below those levels by 2035.