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.