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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Governor Signs Executive Order To Reduce Carbon Emissions

Miriam Duerr
Washington Department of Ecology

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has signed an executive order that calls for a new cap-and-market program to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is the time to act,” said Inslee, a Democrat, at a news conference Tuesday inside the Automotive Training Center at Shoreline Community College near Seattle.

Acknowledging that Washington is already a low carbon-emitting state, Inslee said “we may be a small fraction of the world’s pollution, but we own 100 percent of our own moral commitment to our own children and our grandchildren.”

Inslee has appointed a 21-member task force to recommend how a market-based carbon pollution reduction program might work in Washington. The taskforce, co-chaired by Rod Brown of the Cascadia Law Group and Ada Healey of Paul Allen’s Vulcan, will provide recommendations to the governor by November 21.

Cap-and-market programs generally work by restricting carbon emissions and then allowing high-emission producers to buy credits from lower-emissions producers.

Low-Carbon Fuel Standard

The governor has also ordered 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.

Oregon is currently in the process of writing its own rules for a similar standard. Washington Republicans and the oil and gas industry have warned that a low-carbon fuel standard could drive up the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Other elements of Inslee’s executive order include a requirement that state agencies work with utility providers to end the use of electricity generated by coal -- often referred to as coal-by-wire.

Washington’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions is from gasoline burned by cars and trucks. Electricity from coal is the second-largest source.

Credit Washington Department of Transportation
Washington Department of Transportation
File photo of Seattle-area traffic heading from Bellevue to Mercer Island.

Inslee’s executive order also calls for

  • More electric vehicles
  • Expanded use of solar power
  • Accelerated development of renewal energy sources
  • Continued energy efficiency measures for homes and businesses.

Inslee promised a “deliberative and public process” in adopting strategies and policies to reduce carbon emissions. He noted that legislative approval would be needed to implement a cap and market program.
‘Ideological War on Carbon’

Republicans were quick to criticize the governor’s executive order.

“I think it’s a gigantic overreach out of the executive branch,” said Republican state Senator Doug Ericksen, chair of the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications committee.

Ericksen accuses Inslee of conducting an “ideological war on carbon” that could drive up the cost of energy and put high-paying manufacturing jobs in Washington at risk. “He can do what he wants,” Ericksen said in a phone interview, “but the people’s legislature will still be there to serve as a backstop.”

This past January, thebipartisan Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) broke down along party lines. Inslee, state Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), and state Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) issued a Democratic report that recommended many of the same strategies the governor is now pursuing through executive order.

Meanwhile Republicans on the panel, including Ericksen, 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.

Carbon Emission Targets Already In Law

In 2008, the Washington legislature adopted a series of targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. By 2020, the state aims to achieve 1990 emissions levels. By 2035, the goal is 25 percent below 1990 levels. And by 2050, the target is 50 percent below 1990 levels. A recent report by a state consultant concluded that without accelerated action Washington is not on track to meet those targets.

Inslee has made combating global climate change a top priority of his administration.

VIDEO: Governor Inslee's announcement - TVW

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."