Wash. Gov. Inslee Signs Executive Order On State Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions

Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SHORELINE, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed an executive oder aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The order creates a task force and charges it with deciding how to tax and cap carbon emissions at the state level. The task force will present a plan to the state Legislature at the beginning of 2015.

The executive order also calls on state agencies to work on phasing out coal power, improving energy efficiency in buildings and exploring the impacts of a low carbon fuel standard – among other things

The first-term Democrat surrounded himself with symbols of the green-tech future he’d like to bring about: he signed the document at a table made out of a solar panel with electric cars parked nearby. Along with politicians, the event was witnessed by the next generation of automotive techs looking on at Shoreline Community College’s Automotive Training Center.

“Today I’m signing an executive order that will determine how we reduce carbon pollution in our state because our grandkids won’t care much for our preamble or our speeches,” Inslee said during the event. “They will care about what is true and what we did.”

Inslee stressed the need for buy-in from business leaders in developing the plan.

Ada Healey, a vice president with Vulcan Real Estate Group, will serve on the task force. She said the company’s chairman, billionaire Paul Allen, and CEO Jody Allen are behind the push to address climate change.

“It’s troubling to them, as well as all of us, that we’re still debating whether climate change is a real concern rather than pulling together and deciding what we’re going to do about it,” Healy said.

Instituting a tax or cap on carbon emissions will require the approval of the state Legislature. That’s been hard to get so far.

Last year Inslee convened the bipartisan Climate Legislative and Executive Work Group. It was supposed to pursue the same agenda as that set by the governor for his new task force. But Democrats and Republicans on the work group failed to reach an agreement.

Democratic members of the panel issued a report that recommended many of the same strategies the governor is now pursuing through executive order.

Republicans on the panel issued their own minority report. It recommended incentivizing more hydropower generation in Washington, embracing nuclear power and promoting research and development of new energy technologies. Throughout the CLEW process, the Republicans cautioned that strategies to reduce carbon emissions in Washington could drive up the cost of energy and hurt the state economically.

Olympia environmental attorney Jay Manning was the head of the Department of Ecology from 2005-09 and then served as chief of staff for former Gov. Chris Gregoire. He said Inslee’s experience as a state and federal representative means he knows it will be tough to get a carbon tax or cap through the state Legislature.

“I don’t think anybody thinks it’s going to be easy but that’s how the process works. So I applaud the gov for putting together this process and then there will be a lively debate, without a doubt in the 2015 session,” Manning said.

So far, Washington is not on track to meet emissions reductions goals set by the state Legislature back in 2008.

Inslee’s order calls on his budget office to conduct a feasibility study of a California-style low-carbon or “clean fuel” standard. This is a requirement that transportation fuels like gasoline be blended with lower-carbon ethanol. According to Inslee’s office, transportation accounts for 44-percent of Washington’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

In recent months, Washington Republicans and the oil and gas industry have sounded the alarm about a low-carbon fuel standard, warning it would drive up the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Oregon is currently in the process of writing its own rules for a similar standard.

Washington, with its abundant hydropower, is considered a low greenhouse gas emitting state. In 2010, total emissions were 96.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, according to the state’s consultant. Washington’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is from gasoline burned by cars and trucks. Electricity from coal is the second largest source.

Inslee Prepares To Make Moral Case For Carbon Reduction

By Austin Jenkins, Northwest News Network

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is preparing to take action on an issue that could secure his legacy — or complicate his re-election chances.

He wants to cap carbon, the biggest culprit in greenhouse gas emissions in Washington. It’s a controversial and potentially costly idea. But the Democrat believes long-term it’s an economic and, even, moral imperative.

An electoral mandate?

It’s no secret that Jay Inslee is passionate about combating climate change. But it was a surprise last January when Inslee’s inauguration turned into a coronation of sorts.

In the Rotunda of the state capitol, Earth Day founder Denis Hayes said, “Jay Inslee is the first political chief executive in American history to be elected principally on a platform of combating climate disruption.”

Hayes didn’t stop there.

“More than any other president or governor before him, Jay has an electoral mandate on this issue.”

Others would say Inslee has a legal mandate. By law, Washington is supposed to reduce all of its greenhouse gas emissions including carbon to 1990 levels by 2020. That’s just six years from now.

In his inaugural address, Inslee called climate change a “grave and immediate danger”

“On climate change we have settled the scientific controversy. That’s resolved,” he said to applause. “What remains now is how we respond to the challenge.”

Capping carbon emissions

It’s been more than a year since that speech. And Inslee may soon announce how to plans to respond. For months, he’s been signaling that a cap on carbon emissions is what’s needed.

“It is clear to me that in some sense, in some way we’ll need to have some restriction on carbon pollution,” said the governor Inslee at a recent news conference.

But what would that cap look like? There are any number of policies Inslee could pursue – none politically easy. Still it looks like there’s one Inslee thinks he can implement unilaterally: a low-carbon fuel standard.

But that could drive up the cost of a gallon of gas. And that concerns Republicans like state Senator Curtis King.

“You gotta look at the impact that that type of thing is going to have on how our businesses in the state of Washington can remain competitive,” says King.

Inslee promises any climate change policies he pursues will be thoroughly costed-out. But it’s the public, not lawmakers Inslee will ultimately have to convince.

Here’s one big reason why: Gasoline powered cars are the single greatest source of carbon emissions in Washington. The question is: would drivers pay more or change their behavior to reduce their carbon footprint? My informal pump-side survey at a gas station south of Olympia produced a mix of answers.

“I could pay a little more if it meant helping the environment and solving problems bit by bit, I’d definitely to that,” says Shyler Bardfield.

But Torey Krieger is wary:

“I don’t know. I would think about being more fuel efficient before increasing the price of gas.”

And then there’s Dennis Teague who definitely does not trust the governor to make these decisions.

“He better have a group of non-political scientists,” he says.

Delivering the message

The University of Southern California’s Larry Pryor, an expert on climate change communication, says that’s a really important point. Pryor believes scientists are underutilized as evangelists for policies to address greenhouse gas emissions.

“They should be organized,” he says. “They should be brought into this discussion in a big way and the public will pay attention to them.”

The challenge with carbon emissions is you can’t seem them. Pryor says that makes the role of scientists all the more important if Governor Inslee hopes to convince the public carbon emissions are a real problem.

“It’s quite rational for people to say ‘we want more proof, we want more certainty that what is being proposed to be enacted is actually going to do good.’”

Especially if it’s going to cost them more in the wallet and the benefits will be hard, if not impossible, to see.

State Senator Doug Ericksen, the Republican chair of the Energy committee, questions whether Washington should even try to meet the 1990 carbon emission levels target. That’s because about 75 percent of Washington’s energy comes from hydropower, which doesn’t have a carbon footprint.

“I mean if you compare us to Indiana or Ohio which are heavy coal states, compared to us being a heavy hydro state, we shouldn’t penalize ourselves because of our hydroelectricity,” says Ericksen.

This is where the art of persuasion comes in. Richard Perloff is the author of a book called The Dynamics of Persuasion. He says the trick for Inslee is to appeal to the public’s desire to do the right or moral thing, but to avoid coming off like a Jimmy Carter-esque moralist.

“If he can grab the moral agenda and actually talk in global terms, then he doesn’t seem like he’s self-interested and he seems something of a — to use the Michelle Obama term — a knucklehead, but a very idealistic knucklehead and people say, you know, I like this guy,” says Perloff.

Inslee’s never been short on idealism. But he’s traditionally made an economic argument for addressing climate change. Now it appears he’s ready to take a page from Perloff’s book. The governor told me recently that he’s prepared to make the moral case for capping carbon emissions.

This was first reported for the Northwest News Network.

Bad news, coal industry: Proposed export terminal is in for a tough review

By Eric de Place and Clark Williams-Derry, Cross-posted from Sightline Daily, Source: Grist.org

Editor’s note: The coal industry is desperate to ship its product to Asia because demand here in the U.S. has dropped. Three coal export terminals are currently proposed for Washington and Oregon (down from six a year ago). Before they can be built, their environmental impacts must be evaluated. Climate activists have been calling for broad evaluations of the myriad impacts, while industry wants just narrow studies done. Today comes word that the environmental impact study for one of the proposed terminals will be wide-ranging and rigorous — a win for anti-coal activists. 

Hot off the presses: The three “co-lead” agencies in charge of reviewing the proposed Gateway Pacific coal export terminal at Cherry Point, Wash., have published the scope of their review. The major takeaway is that it’s bad news for the coal industry.

The industry did win an empty victory with the Army Corps of Engineers, the sole federal agency at the table, which opted for a narrow scope of review. But in the end it doesn’t much matter. One of the other lead agencies, the Washington Department of Ecology, is going to require in-depth analysis of four elements that the coal industry had desperately hoped to avoid:

  • A detailed assessment of rail transportation’s impacts on representative communities in Washington and a general analysis of out-of-state rail impacts.
  • An assessment of how the project would affect human health in Washington.
  • A general assessment of cargo-ship impacts beyond Washington waters.
  • An evaluation and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions of end-use coal combustion.

Of those, two stand to be particularly damaging for would-be coal exporters: rail impacts and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s not a lot of wiggle room with either of those elements.

First, burning the 48 million tons of coal proposed for export at the terminal annually would release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide, a staggering figure that amounts to as much carbon pollution as every activity in the state of Washington combined. In other words, it’s a clear environmental disaster that would overshadow every other effort the state has made to reduce climate-changing emissions.

Second, moving that much coal to a terminal will create congestion throughout the region. There’s simply no way around the math. In Seattle, for example, both Sightline and the traffic analysis firm Parametrix have confirmed that new coal export shipments would completely close major center city streets by an additional one to three hours every day, 365 days per year.

What’s worse for the coal industry is that the expansive scope of review will likely create further delay and uncertainty, potentially scaring off investors. Just yesterday, in fact, executives from Cloud Peak Energy, which plans to mine up to 10 millions tons of coal a year in Montana and ship it out through West Coast ports, griped about the slow progress on coal export terminals during a sad-sack discussion of its weak second-quarter earnings.

Now that public agencies will be tallying the manifest pollution, health, climate, and congestion impacts of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal, there’s likely to be even more opposition to planned export terminals. Plus, given more analysis and a wider exploration of the proposal’s problems, opponents will likely find abundant opportunities to litigate, which would of course create even more delay and uncertainty.

So the bottom line of today’s announcement for the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal: long delays, high costs, more opportunities for public opposition, and a near-certainty of litigation. Coupled with the ongoing collapse in Pacific Rim coal prices, it’s not a fun time to be in the Northwest coal export business.

Eric de Place is a senior researcher at Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based sustainability think tank.

Clark Williams-Derry is research director for the Seattle-based Sightline Institute, a nonprofit sustainability think tank working to promote smart solutions for the Pacific Northwest. He was formerly the webmaster for Grist.