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Inslee’s clean air rule order draws senate-bill opposition

— Opponents of Gov. Jay Inslee’s greenhouse gas emissions plan are already questioning whether he or the state Department of Ecology have any authority to act.

Last July, Inslee instructed the department to draft a carbon-emissions rule after failing to gain legislative support.

If implemented, the proposed rule would force the state’s largest producers of greenhouse gasses to reduce emissions by 5 percent every three years starting in 2020, continuing to 2035.

Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee Chairman Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, has dropped Senate Bill 6173 to stop Ecology from passing any rule or policy limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a hearing Tuesday, Ericksen expressed concern a cap would raise business costs for companies and force some to leave the state.

“At the current time, we have the state in flux,” he said. “I can’t imagine being the CEO of a corporation that wants to create manufacturing jobs, looking at Washington state, and saying ‘how do I come into that environment and try to make the capital investment?’”

Ecology wants to require emission reductions by companies such as natural-gas distributors, waste facilities and power plants emitting 100,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases. The 100,000 metric ton threshold, beginning in 2020, would decrease by 5,000 every three years until it reaches 70,000 metric tons in 2035.

“We’re considering this a draft rule,” Ecology spokeswoman Camille St. Onge said.

Other critics are also up in arms.

“It’s definitely not built to serve multiple different types of users,” Avista spokeswoman Mary Tyrie said.

Avista, one of the companies that would have to comply with the rule, is a Spokane-based natural gas distributor and the first business named on the hit list of companies that would be required to comply.

Tyrie said the proposal presents unique challenges for Avista because it supplies gas used by customers for electricity, and their emissions occur indirectly.

“We are not creating the emissions,” she said. “We supply the fuel that the customer burns.”

She said the company would have to purchase proposed “carbon credits” from other companies able to reduce emissions. That would cost money and lead to rate increases.

Association of Washington Business Government Affairs Director for Environmental Policy Brandon Housekeeper called the plan a tax on energy.

Businesses are worried the proposal is a “one-size-fits-all” approach that doesn’t take account for companies’ existing environmental practices, he said.

“We think given that Washington is already a leader in reducing emissions and using clean green energy, that there are better approaches we can take,” he said.

Critics have also raised concerns about executive over-reach – meaning the governor doesn’t have the authority to act independently of the Legislature.

Ericksen said his bill creates some legislative oversight of carbon-emission proposals, without interfering with ballot initiatives that may be decided by voters.

“What we can control is whether or not the executive branch goes forward with a carbon-cap rule,” he said.

At least one initiative will be on the ballot in November.

Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732 would impose a $25 tax on every metric ton of carbon from fossil fuels used in the state.

The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is preparing its own initiative to direct investments toward helping the state transition to clean energy and reduce so-called climate change.

Ericksen’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, vice-chairman of Ericksen’s committee and a member of the Senate’s republican caucus, would likely face an uphill battle in the democrat-controlled House.

And if it were to make it to Inslee’s desk, the governor could veto the legislation.

Inslee and Ecology maintain they have the right to create and enforce a policy through the state’s Clean Air Act.

“We are charged under the Clean Air Act to regulate air pollutants in Washington state, and carbon pollution is an air pollutant,” St. Onge said. “Greenhouse gasses are a known pollutant. So, that falls under our purview.”

Ross Macfarlane, with the nonprofit Climate Solutions, says criticisms of the proposal are unsubstantiated, adding the government acting on greenhouse-gas regulation is good for business.

He called the move toward clean energy a 21st Century revolution.

“The question for Washington is, ‘Do we want to be leading in that revolution,’” he said. “Do we want to be a Silicon Valley? Or do we want to be a Detroit or rustbelt community that is left behind?”

St. Onge said the department expects to implement a final rule this summer summer.

Meanwhile, the department is accepting comments from the public.

Ecology is also planning four public hearings in March.

- LaVendrick Smith can be reached at lavendricksmith@gmail.com.

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