By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW
SEATTLE — Under the new rules released by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, each state has a specific percentage by which it has to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.
The average of all the individual state-level cuts will be CO2 emissions from power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels.
Washington has one of the lowest CO2 emissions levels from electricity generation in the country.
Yet, under the new EPA rules, Washington is on the hook to cut those emissions by more than any other state.
“It’s a goal that we can, should and will meet, in part because we’ve already taken early action in our state,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told EarthFix.
Inslee’s confidence comes, in part, from the fact that his state has already finalized plans to phase out Washington’s only remaining coal fired power plant by 2025.
The plant is responsible for almost 70 percent of the state’s emissions from electricity generation.
That’s almost exactly how much the EPA says Washington has to cut to meet the new requirements.
“Yes, we are ahead of the game,” says KC Golden, senior policy advisor for Climate Solutions, an advocacy group based in Seattle, “but if you measure by what we need to be doing in order to stave off dangerous climate change then we’re behind the game.”
Washington has already committed to more renewable energy and energy efficiency at the state level. But Golden says there’s a lot more work to be done, and the EPA rules are actually pretty lenient.
Golden and other environmentalists say that the state needs to stop buying coal power generated elsewhere. Washington has a dirty little secret: While most of the electricity consumed in Washington comes from hydropower, 15 percent comes from coal.
And a large portion of that comes from plants in Montana and Wyoming.
Golden says the EPA rule will encourage those states to find cleaner sources of power to sell to West Coast states.
“States like Montana and Wyoming have a lot of coal but they also have a lot of wind and sun. Most of the customers are in the coastal states and they want clean power. If you’re in the power supply business, the customer’s always right.”
But wind and sun aren’t always reliable, and the transition off coal won’t happen over night, says Kimberly Harris, CEO of Puget Sound Energy, the largest investor-owned utility in Washington State. PSE gets 30 percent of its power from coal, more than half of it comes from out-of-state.
“You cannot just shut down coal units and expect for the grid to continue to operate,” she told a crowd at the Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners in Seattle last week. “Any type of a retirement has to be transitional because we have significant decisions to make and … this really needs to be a regional approach.
Inslee has been pushing Washington to join regional carbon cap and trade systems –- like the one already in place in California — but hasn’t been able to get the necessary legislation passed.
The new EPA rules will lead to reduced coal-fired power in the U.S. – but the rules don’t apply to coal that is exported and burned elsewhere.
That’s an issue for Washington. It’s currently reviewing proposals to build two coal export terminals.
As coal becomes more heavily regulated and less fashionable in the U.S., coal companies are more eager to ship it elsewhere – despite the fact that the emissions from burning that coal in Asia will impact the climate, globally.