Real cuts to carbon pollution

There are times — albeit rare — when the federal government leads by example.

On Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, at the direction of President Barack Obama, unveiled its Clean Power Plan, which by 2030 aims to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels. It’s a fair and backbone-ish rule, designed to enhance public health, all the while casting the United States into a leadership role in the battle against global climate change.

“By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

Little of this is new to Washington, which has been in the vanguard of curbing carbon pollution (granted, the Northwest’s abundance of hydro makes it a wee easier.) The state’s last coal-fired power plant, TransAlta in Centralia, will be shut down by 2025. And in April, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order to advance a low-carbon, clean-energy agenda, which includes tamping down reliance on dirty, out-of-state, coal-generated electricity. That puts the squeeze on Washington’s largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, which generates one-third of its juice from coal-fired power plants, mostly the Colstrip facility in Montana.

The carbon targets are tailored to each state. Washington’s 72 percent emissions cut sounds high because it factors in the scheduled shuttering of TransAlta.

The takeaway from Monday’s announcement: As Washington goes, so goes the nation.

“Eight years ago, Washington voters established targets for new renewable energy generation in this state. That law built upon our state’s strong legacy of carbon-free energy production and helped drive more than $7 billion in investment in our clean energy economy,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Monday.

There’s nothing abstract about the fallout of climate change. In the Northwest, the price is paid in real time.

“These life-saving protections could not come at a more critical time,” said Dr. William McPherson, a task force volunteer with Coal-Free Washington. “Climate disruption has already cost Washington’s families more than $388 million in 2011 and 2012 alone. Our shellfish, fisheries, forests and coastlines are already feeling the effects of these changes.”

The EPA’s proposed rule reflects farsighted leadership consistent with the public interest. And the Pacific Northwest leads the way.

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