Inslee’s carbon cap won’t happen soon

OLYMPIA — It may take Gov. Jay Inslee longer to circumvent lawmakers and impose a cap on carbon emissions than he’s expecting.

The governor directed the Department of Ecology last week to begin developing a hard limit on emissions using his rule-making power under existing state laws.

He pledged the process would be open with plenty of opportunity for interested parties to weigh in — and he expected to be finished in about a year.

But the man leading the effort says it could take twice as long because of the complexity and controversy enveloping the issue.

Stu Clark, the air quality program manager for the Department of Ecology, said his team must craft the rule essentially from scratch as there’s no template for such a regulatory feat.

“A complex rule like this can typically take us 18 months to 24 months to do,” he said. “It must be built from the bottom up. Everybody will get their say.”

While air emissions are regulated for a handful of industries, such as pulp and paper mills, for the most part the state must figure out who will be covered by the new regulations and then what is practical and possible for them to achieve in terms of reductions, Clark said.

It is likely the eventual rule will not apply to all emitters which will add a degree of complication to the regulatory calibrations, he said. Cars, for example, are the single largest source of pollution-causing emissions but aren’t likely to be placed under any cap, he said.

Procedurally, once all that work is done and a draft rule is completed, it would be formally released. The state would then have 180 days to gather public comments at the end of which Inslee would have to decide whether to make it final.

A spokeswoman for the governor didn’t dispute Clark’s assessment of the challenge ahead though she emphasized the governor is resolved for the process to be carried out with deliberative speed.

This cap would be the centerpiece of Inslee’s efforts to combat climate change in the wake of his failed attempt to pass a cap-and-trade policy earlier this year.

“This is not his preferred approach,” said Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith. “I think the incentive all along has been the acknowledgement that we need to do something about this issue.”

Meanwhile Monday, President Barack Obama announced new federal rules to limit emissions from the nation’s power plants. Inslee praised the president and issued a statement saying the policy complements his approach in the state to fighting climate change.

“Here in Washington we’ll go further,” Inslee said. “We will cap carbon pollution using our state’s own Clean Air Act, we will continue to invest in clean technologies and we will promote a smarter grid and cleaner transportation alternatives.”

The cap sought by Inslee is intended to help the state meet emission limits contained in a 2007 law.

Under that law, the state must reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and be 50 percent below that benchmark by 2050.

Washington is making headway toward attaining the first target. In 1990, its greenhouse gas emissions totaled 88.4 million metric tons. It rose to 101.6 million metric tons in 2007 but had declined to 92 million metric tons in 2012, according to ecology department figures.

The problem with the 2007 law is it didn’t spell out how the state should meet the standards.

Earlier this year, Inslee proposed a cap-and-trade approach that lawmakers rejected. That plan targeted roughly 130 of the state’s largest polluters and would have required them to buy credits for emissions through an annual auction. Money from sales of the credits would go into the state budget.

The rule now getting developed would not charge emitters so it would not raise revenue for the budget, according to the governor’s office

Environmentalists, who cheered Inslee’s announcement as bold and decisive, said the one-year timetable is ambitious and possible.

“That is the expectation and I will hold him to that,” said Becky Kelley, president of the Washington Environmental Council. “The nature of the tool the governor has largely been forced to use is a tool he needs to use decisively.”

The state isn’t starting totally from scratch because there’s ample knowledge on sources of emissions, options for reduction and positions of the stakeholders in this debate, said Ross Macfarlane, senior ad visor at Climate Solutions in Seattle, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy and climate change policies.

“This is aggressive but not impossible,” he said. “Will it require the governor continuing to put pressure on the administration of the Department of Ecology? Absolutely.”

Business leaders are concerned that some firms will be harmed by the results if the process is too hurried.

“Without having any details, how do you go from scratch to a rule in a year?” asked Brandon Housekeeper, director of governmental affairs on environmental issues for the Association of Washington Business. “One year just seems aggressive on his part.”

Housekeeper said he’d prefer the governor use the type of collaborative approach that he did for drafting a rule for new water quality standards tied to the consumption of fish. That allowed for the full input of affected parties.

“I would argue it is going to be equally as complex, maybe more, than the water quality rule,” Housekeeper said.

That took much longer than a year to complete and the governor on Friday announced he wasn’t going to press ahead with the clean water rule.

That was “quite a different situation,” Kelley said noting adoption of the clean water rule was tied to a toxics control bill that lawmakers did not pass.

“He had constructed a grand bargain with legislators and didn’t get it,” she said. “With this, he is in control of the situation.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Tacoma-based MultiCare’s partnership expands reach in Snohomish County

MultiCare and Overlake say they will “invest significantly to meet the growing health care needs of the Eastside and North Sound communities.”

A BNSF train crosses Grove St/72nd St, NE in Marysville, Washington on March 17, 2022. Marysville recently got funding for design work for an overcrossing at the intersection. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Eighth Street in Marysville closed 8 days for railroad repairs

The road was closed this week between Cedar Avenue and Delta Avenue in Marysville.

A mountain goats in the North Cascades east of Marblemount in August 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Ahead of grizzly arrival, wildlife advocates assess past translocations

Moving animals has helped struggling populations to rebound. And advocates point to past examples as evidence that “it’s not ethical to do nothing.”

Julie Timm
Sound Transit’s $375K payout to ex-CEO didn’t buy help

Board members said Julie Timm would give professional advice to them or a future CEO after leaving, but she hasn’t been called upon.

FILE -- An engine on a Boeing 767 jet aircraft, at a Boeing facility in Everett, Wash., March 7, 2012. The Boeing 737 engine that failed on Southwest Flight 1380 is not the only one that has caught the eye of regulators: Engines on Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and 767 have also failed, prompting questions about their design and inspection procedures. (Stuart Isett/The New York Times)
Boeing 767, built in Everett, gets 5-year lifeline from Congress

Boeing would have been forced to end production of the 767 Freighter in 2027 due to new emissions rules if not for the extension.

Snohomish County Jail. (Herald file)
Inmate, 51, dies at Snohomish County Jail

Around 3 p.m., corrections staff called 911 about an inmate, who became unresponsive as firefighters arrived. He died at the scene.

With the Olympic mountains in the background, Boeing's 777x lifts off from Paine Field on its first flight, to Boeing Field in Seattle, on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020 in Everett, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
1 dead, dozens injured after turbulence on Boeing plane

A Singapore Airlines flight from London was diverted to Bangkok, where more than 70 people were being treated for injuries.

Two people fight on the side of I-5 neat Marysville. (Photo provided by WSDOT)
Idaho man identified in fatal trooper shooting on I-5 near Everett

The deceased man was Marvin Arellano, 31, of Nampa, Idaho, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

State Sen. Mark Mullet, left, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, are both running as Democrats for governor in 2024. (Photos provided)
Did Bob Ferguson go too far responding to fellow Fergusons?

Ferguson wanted the secretary of state to redo the ballot. Mark Mullet, a Democratic rival, says such a move would’ve broken the law.

Photo by Gina Shields of GM Photography
Whidbey Island to salute the fallen for Memorial Day

All are invited to honor those who have fallen at three events on Whidbey Island.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.