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Inslee Wants to Explore State-Only 'Cap and Trade' Scheme

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday laid out how he'd like the state to combat global warming pollution, including eliminating any electricity generated by coal and putting a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Legislative Republicans immediately raised concerns.

Back in 2008, the Washington Legislature set ambitious goals for reducing the state's carbon footprint. But they're just goals without enforcement mechanisms. Subsequently, a pact between 11 western states and provinces to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions fell apart. 

Now Inslee chairs a bipartisan legislative work group tasked with recommending policies to achieve the state's climate goals. He says on its current course, the state will fall far short.

"That shows the necessity, in my view, of having a belt-and-suspenders, economy-wide approach to capping emissions in this state,” he said, referring to a "carbon cap-and-trade" system for industrial polluters along with requirements to increase use of alternative fuels in transportation.

Republican legislators flanking the governor at a workgroup meeting weren't shy about raising the fear that this could drive businesses to leave Washington for less regulated neighboring states.

"How do we address for Washington state going it alone on certain issues in terms of the economic impact to manufacturing, job base and agriculture?" asked GOP State Sen. Doug Ericksen rhetorically. 

The four legislative members of the work group also offered proposals Monday. Ericksen talked up nuclear power. Republican Rep. Shelly Short suggested focusing on energy conservation incentives, especially to increase energy efficiency in buildings. Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon echoed the governor's call to "transition off fossil fuels" in transportation while Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker joined the governor in proposing to wean the state's electric utilities off of coal-fired generation.

The state of Washington has already signed a deal with the energy company TransAlta to phase out the only large coal power plant inside the state's borders located in Centralia. Now the Democratic politicians are targeting what they call "coal-by-wire," meaning utility purchases of electricity generated from coal at out-of-state power plants. 

The bipartisan workgroup aims to produce a prioritized set a recommendations by December for how the state can curb carbon emissions in the future. 

The goal is the get the state back on track to meet the following targets set by the 2008 Washington Legislature: 

• By 2020, reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 1990 levels
• By 2035, reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions in the state to 25 percent  below 1990 levels
• By 2050, reduce overall emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels, or 70 percent below the state's expected emissions that year if it were to continue with business as usual. 

You can offer your two cents for how the state should try to cut global warming pollution at two upcoming public hearings. The first is this Wednesday evening in Spokane. A second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 23 at the Seattle waterfront.

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.