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Washington governor orders cutbacks in emissions

Her Legislature refused to impose a cap-and-trade system, so Gov. Chris Gregoire issues an executive order affecting a coal-fired power plant, public transit and other programs.

May 22, 2009|Kim Murphy

SEATTLE — Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire sidestepped her Legislature's refusal to adopt a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gases, signing an executive order Thursday to achieve similar reductions by ratcheting back coal-fired electricity and automobile emissions.

"I wanted cap-and-trade. I didn't get it," said Gregoire, a Democrat, whose order directs government agencies to expand public transit and other programs to meet auto emissions goals, and to reach agreement with the state's only coal-fired power plant to reduce its carbon output at least 50% by 2025.

The order also calls for development of an even wider-ranging set of emission reduction strategies to achieve across-the-board greenhouse gas targets by 2020, and sets the stage for working with California and Oregon to implement a West Coast "electric highway" accessible to electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.

The new order is the latest in a series of efforts by governors to advance climate change goals while awaiting comprehensive national legislation in Washington.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 33 to 25 on Thursday to approve a bill:energy-and-commerce-committee-passes-comprehensive-clean-energy- legislation&catid=122:media-advisories&Itemid=55 to impose the nation's first limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, aiming to cut emissions linked to global warming 83% by 2050. The bill must now go to several other committees and then the House floor. Democrats have said they will use the bill as a starting point for introducing a climate bill in the Senate.

The Washington Legislature in March refused to impose a mandatory limit on carbon emissions, throwing a wrench into the state's participation in the Western Climate Initiative -- established in 2007 among seven states and four Canadian provinces.

Governors in several regions are trying to set up a system of marketable carbon reduction credits that can be traded to industries unable to meet mandatory emissions limits -- the so-called cap-and-trade concept.

Gregoire's order is designed to realize similar carbon reductions by negotiation, incentive and administrative regulation. "This readies Washington state to implement a federal cap-and-trade program immediately," she said.

The order came as the federal Environmental Protection Agency held a second and final hearing in Seattle on its proposal to find that greenhouse gases pose a danger to humans and therefore are subject to regulation under the federal Clean Air Act -- potentially one of the most far-reaching regulatory moves since the agency began overseeing air pollution in the 1960s.

The EPA also is poised to rule that carbon dioxide, in combination with other tailpipe emissions, contributes to the threat of climate change.

"It's an important turnaround. The importance of these issues is finally rising to the top, where the EPA is paying attention to the seriousness of global warming, and is not making decisions based purely on the politics as they have in the past," said Janette Brimmer, staff attorney for the conservation group Earthjustice.

Outside the hearing, several hundred climate-change activists, many bused in from Oregon, batted balloons painted like globes and waved banners with such slogans as "For Our Children's Future."

"After eight years of wandering in the wilderness, we finally have a president who says global warming is real, it is human-caused . . . and we have a responsibility to do something about it," Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels told the crowd.

In this city -- where conservation has long been a mantra -- Thursday's hearing was like handing the megaphone to the choir. During most of the day, not a single respondent testified against the idea. Industry representatives largely were relegated to the post-6 p.m. time slot.

Gregoire and others -- citing University of Washington studies -- told EPA regulators that Washington's Cascade mountain range already has lost 20% of its snowpack and could lose up to 60% by 2050, with potentially devastating consequences for farm irrigation, salmon survival and hydropower generation.

Some business groups are urging the EPA to stand down and allow Congress to adopt comprehensive regulation of greenhouse gases.

"Congress is better positioned than EPA in representing the interests of citizens nationwide, guarding against further harm to our already fragile economy and job loss," Grant Nelson of the Assn. of Washington Business said in a prepared statement.

He added: "We all know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be expensive, but how Congress decides to act could make or break our economy of the future, and could mean the difference between job growth and job loss."

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kim.murphy@latimes.com

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