Now that President Trump has pulled the United States from working with 195 other nations as part of the Paris climate agreement — choosing instead to side with Syria and Nicaragua — what’s next, specifically for those of us in Washington state?
Besides selling our snow skis and learning to like farm-raised salmon?
Joking aside, there’s much for our state and its residents to do.
Ironically, a Thurston County Superior Court is hearing arguments today regarding a suit by an industry group and four natural gas utilities, challenging the clean air rule adopted by the state Department of Ecology that and put into effect in January.
The state rule is based on a similar commitment in the Paris agreement, in that it seeks a reduction in the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. A 2008 law, signed by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire, set goals of cutting emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to reduce emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035.
Unable to get legislation passed that would have established a carbon cap-and-trade program, Gov. Jay Inslee directed the Department of Ecology in 2015 to draft a clean air rule that requires a gradual reduction in carbon from the state’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Directly, that’s power plants, oil refineries, natural gas utilities and manufacturers; indirectly, that’s all of us.
The rule sets a cap on carbon emissions, requiring industrial producers to reduce emissions by 1.7 percent each year. The cap starts at 100,000 metric tons of carbon a year, and for the first three years will affect the state’s petroleum refineries and natural gas utilities. By 2020, the state’s petroleum importers — and by extension, motorists and other transportation users — will fall under the cap. The cap will be lowered every three years until it reaches 75,000 metric tons by 2035. The cap limit isn’t expected to reach Boeing’s Everett operations, for example, until 2035.
Companies can comply with the cap limits by lowering their emissions outright, investing in projects that reduce carbon pollution or buying credits from others in an approved carbon-trading market.
But industries and utilities are challenging the rule, claiming the state doesn’t have the authority to make the rule and that the rule isn’t necessary because Washington state is a leader among other states in low emissions.
The courts will determine whether the state has the authority or not, but the state’s leadership in emissions — much of it thanks to the availability of hydro-power — doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t do more.
Inslee ordered the clean air rule to comply with the limits set by the Legislature in 2008, a commitment also required by court order from a lawsuit filed on behalf of eight children seeking greater action by the state to address climate change.
Late in 2016, a study by the Department of Ecology said even deeper cuts to carbon emissions would be necessary between now and 2050 to adhere to the Paris agreement’s goal of limiting average increase of the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Even if the clean air rule stands, the expected reduction by 2035 — about 16 million metric tons less than the 93 million metric tons recorded in 2013 — would fall far short of the 2008 goal of 66 million metric tons and the 2016 report’s updated goal of 53.2 million metric tons.
One of the hurdles to reaching those goals has been the assumption that the economic costs of controlling carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions will be too great, but it ignores the economic advantages that could result.
The state’s economic analysis of the clean air rule estimated that the costs to all businesses to comply — which, yes, are passed on to the consumer — could total as much as $6.9 billion over the next 20 years, but would be offset by $9.6 billion in benefits over the same period in improved environmental, health and other effects, the Associated Press reported in December.
Others, also, are looking at how our response to climate change can be an economic engine in itself.
The Association of Washington Cities and its Center for Quality Communities this year launched its Growing the Green Economy proposal, following work by Everett City Council member Paul Roberts and others, to develop an “eco-nomic” center in the state to foster the development of new technologies and products that address climate change, touching on a range of economic centers found throughout Snohomish County, the Puget Sound region and the state.
With President Trump’s announcement, other nations, notably the largest carbon emitters China and India, have recommitted their nations to the Paris pact. Washington and other states can do the same.
The reasons to carry on are clear, as stated in the Ecology report from December:
“In recent years we have observed devastating wildfires, drought, lack of snowpack and increases in ocean acidification. These events are examples of what our future will look like if we fail to take action. While Washington cannot single-handedly solve climate change, we can do our part, and set an example for other states and jurisdictions.”