Politics blog

Gov. Inslee praises Obama step on reducing coal-plant carbon emissions

OlympianJune 2, 2014 

An aerial view of the TransAlta power plant in Centralia in 2006.

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian file photo

It should come as no surprise that Gov. Jay Inslee welcomed moves by President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to initiate rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Washington is already on its way to phasing out coal-burning power plants by 2025, and in a statement posted on his web site, the governor said efforts by West Coast leaders to reduce emissions are helped by the federal proposal that would reduce power plant emissions by 30 percent. 

Inslee’s press office also released supportive statements from Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, California Gov. Jerry Brown and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, all of whom signed agreements last year on plans to work through a Pacific Coast Collaborative to further policies that cut emissions linked to climate change.

In late April, Inslee issued an executive order on climate change action that included forming a task force to examine ways Washington can develop a cap and trade program for pollution credits related to carbon emissions. California and B.C. have cap and trade programs, as does the New England region, and B.C. also has a tax on carbon in fuels.

An analysis by consultants for Inslee’s Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup  last year said most of Washington’s emissions – about 44 percent – are tied to the transportation sector. Power plants’ share was smaller as a result of the state’s reliance on hydroelectric power stations along the Columbia River, and power firms’ share can be expected to fall as the TransAlta plants in Centralia transitions to natural gas at one plant by 2020 and the other by 2025. 

The White House said in an email to reporters that the new EPA rules would “continue driving cost-effective measures to reduce carbon pollution in Washington, building off of recent progress.” It said Washington’s carbon emissions from the power sector had been reduced by 40 percent between 2008 and 2011.

Some private utilities continue to rely on electricity produced by coal plants in Montana, including Puget Sound Energy, which relies on its holdings at Colstrip for upward of 30 percent of electricity. Inslee has proposed looking for ways to phase out that importation of coal power, which he and environmentalists call “coal by wire.’’

Grant Ringel, spokesman for Bellevue-based PSE, said it is too early to say exactly what affect the rules will have on Colstrip and the utility’s power supply.

“The rules are just out. We’ll need a little bit of time to adjust them. But we support a balanced approach that recognizes that utilities have a responsibility to serve all of our customers and a wide range of needs. Those include environment concerns, maintaining the reliability of the electric system as well as keeping bills affordable,’’ Ringel said. “There’s a lot of work ahead for the entire nation to work in this direction. We think having all interest at the table and keeping the needs of customers foremost in mind is going to be critical going forward.’’

Asked if the rules would add costs, Ringel said “that remains to be seen.’’ He also noted that PSE has invested more than $2 billion into three wind farm projects and has programs for energy efficiency and to help install solar panels on buildlings. 

A report issued last week showed Washington’s rate of emissions ranked near the bottom of states along with Oregon and Idaho. 

In his push for fewer emissions Inslee often notes that Washington set targets for reducing emissions by 2020. CLEW determined that the state won’t make those targets or targets for 2030 and 2050 without changing practices. Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale has balked at a cap and trade proposal but suggested more hydro and nuclear power could be among the state’s options for reducing carbon emissions.

In his statement, Inslee repeated his belief there is not time to waste because climate change is already having an impact on Washington state:

"The damages and dangers that climate change poses to our state and nation are real and they're happening now. Farmers, fisherman, public health experts and more Americans every day see those damages for themselves. Many new climate facts published in recent months have confirmed both the changes happening to our climate, and the resulting impacts that threaten our economy, environment and way of life. In Washington, climate change is driving more devastating wildfires and straining water resources, ocean acidification is harming our historic shellfish industries, sea-level rise is hurting our coastal communities, and more. These impacts will cost our state almost $10 billion per year after 2020, unless we take additional actions. And with the President's help, we will take action. We have an obligation to protect our state, our economy and our environment for our children and for future generations.”
 The Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown University's law school has this handy tool showing state-by-state progress on emissions. Its page on Washington shows a bump up in wind energy production since 2010.

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