Washington governor wants state off coal-based electricity


Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (REUTERS/Max Whittaker)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) is ordering his administration to work with utilities that provide electricity to state residents to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the amount of power generated from burning coal.

That’s one of a handful of moves Inslee made Tuesday in an executive order aimed at drastically reducing Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions. He cast the fight against climate change as a moral issue.

“This is the right time to act, the right place to act and we are the right people to act,” Inslee said Tuesday at Shoreline Community College, just north of Seattle.

Inslee’s executive order created a 21-member task force that will design what his administration called a “market-based” approach to reducing carbon emissions while mitigating impacts on businesses and jobs. The task force will consider cap-and-trade models or a carbon tax; its final report is due in six months.

Ending Washington’s reliance on coal will require changes by some utilities located outside the state’s borders. Washington already gets most of its energy from hydroelectric dams, including the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River; Washington consumes 892 trillion Btu of hydroelectric power, compared with just 57 trillion Btu from coal power, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

A state panel said last year that current state and federal policies won’t allow Washington to comply with a 2008 state law that required carbon production levels to fall to 1990 levels by 2020. The executive order, Inslee said, would help comply with that law.

Inslee ordered the state Department of Transportation to come up with tools to support electric vehicle fleets and to promote public transportation to reduce carbon output. Up to 44 percent of the state’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 came from transportation-related sources; almost a quarter came from gasoline consumption alone.

Washington legislators have balked at cap-and-trade legislation before. In 2009, the legislature killed a proposal from then-Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) to require companies to stay under emission caps, or to buy extra permits from other businesses.

But this time, Inslee’s task force — which includes representatives from business, labor unions and other stakeholders — is hoping to assuage economic worries. The task force will consider ways to offset costs to consumers and job losses that might result from a cap-and-trade system. Inslee cited studies conducted for the Western Climate Initiative that show limits on carbon would lead to more than 19,000 new jobs and an additional $3.3 billion in economic output in just the next six years.

Inslee “is serious about climate change and building our clean energy economy,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of Washington Conservation Voters. “He sees both the problems and the potential for innovation inherent in climate change and he’s determined that Washington state will lead on solutions.”

Inslee has long made climate change a cornerstone of his political career. In 2007, he co-authored a book on the clean energy economy; during his time in Congress, he attacked Republican skepticism over climate change science. In 2013, Inslee signed an agreement with Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the premier of British Columbia to take action to prevent the impacts of climate change.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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