Washington state’s Department of Ecology says the magnitude of threats from climate change are so severe, it needs to set limits on air pollution. The agency released an updated rule to cap carbon emissions that it says will be more effective than the draft Clean Air Rule it released in February. But the rewrite is controversial.
Ecology says its new draft rule contains a number of improvements. It requires large emitters to reduce carbon emissions gradually, by an average of 1.7 percent every year. It will initially apply to about two dozen oil refineries, power plants and other large emitters.
Air Quality Program Manager Stu Clark says the rewrite responds to the concerns of businesses as well as environmentalists, while reducing emissions faster.
“It’s pretty comprehensive, it covers multiple sectors, it covers transportation fuels, which are the biggest source of our emissions in Washington, so that’s a big change from previous policies that are on the books,” he said. “And it covers about two thirds of the total emissions in Washington.”
As the threshold is lowered over time, Ecology estimates the rule could affect as many as 70 emitters. But the latest version also provides some new avenues for compliance, including recognition for companies who are ahead of the curve, said Sarah Rees, Ecology’s special assistant on climate change policy.
“And if they rank as more efficient compared to their peers in the rest of the country, then they would have to reduce their emissions less over time,” she said.
Environmental and energy lobbyists both released mostly positive statements in response. But the Association of Washington Business says no cap is needed because incentives are already working. The group’s government affairs director, Brandon Housekeeper, says companies that are leaders in reducing emissions should not be forced to do more.
“Because even if you’re deemed by the state of Washington to be the top performer in your industry, you will still have a compliance obligation to further reduce emissions and therefore incur costs in the state of Washington,” he said, “even if you are as efficient as you can be.”
Other critics include the Western Environmental Law Center, which said the cap addresses less than a quarter of the emissions needed to protect the environment for future generations. The group has sued the state on behalf of children who will have to deal with the consequences of climate change and a King County judge ordered the state to issue regulations to reduce carbon pollution.
The state expects to finalize the new rule later this summer, with the first limits taking effect next year. The Department of Ecology says it will be accepting comments on its website through July 22.
Editor's Note: this story has been updated to correct an error. It originally said the new rule would require large emitters to reduce their carbon emissions by an average of 1.7 percent every three years. The requirement is actually that they turn in a report every three years, showing an average of 1.7 percent annual reduction.