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Tuesday, March 26, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Pacific NW

Washington state rules target greenhouse gases

Some of Washington’s largest polluters will have to cut back greenhouse emissions under new rules state officials are developing.

The rules would target about 35 industrial facilities jointly responsible for 60 percent of the heat-trapping gases produced in Washington. The proposed regulation follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s failure to get a cap-and-trade system and carbon tax approved by the Legislature this year.

“This year’s record-setting drought and forest fires are sobering examples of what our future could look like if we fail to act now,” Maia Bellon, director for the Department of Ecology, said during a Monday briefing. “We can’t afford the cost of inaction.”

Smaller snowpacks threaten the state’s economy as well as Washington residents’ quality of life, and smoke from wildfires is sending hundreds of people to the hospital with heart attacks and breathing problems, Bellon and other state officials said.

Ecology officials said the new rules will help Washington comply with a 2008 law in which the Legislature called for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and further cutting them 25 percent by 2035 and 50 percent by 2050.

Factories and other facilities that produce 100,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases annually would be affected by the new regulations. Power plants, oil refineries and manufacturing plants are on the list, as are landfills that release large volumes of methane gas.

Motor vehicles are Washington’s single largest source of greenhouse gases, accounting for 45 percent of annual emissions. Motorists would be affected by the new rule through required emission reductions at oil refineries and from petroleum distributors.

Bellon and her staff had few specifics to offer Monday. They said the new rules would gradually reduce carbon dioxide, methane and five other heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change. An economic analysis will be part of the rulemaking process.

In the next few weeks, agency officials will set meetings with the companies, governments, tribes, environmental groups and the public, with a goal to release a draft rule by December and a final rule by next June. The new regulations would take effect in 2017, Bellon said.

Companies could reduce emissions by changing manufacturing methods, conserving energy or purchasing carbon offset credits, officials said.

In Eastern Washington, targeted polluters include Avista Corp., Kaiser Aluminum’s Trentwood plant and the city of Spokane’s waste-to-energy facility. Avista is on the list because it sells natural gas to customers, who release emissions when they run their furnaces, said Bruce Howard, the Spokane utility’s director of environmental affairs. As part of its feedback to the state, Avista will encourage regulators to consider the cost to utility customers.

“We want to make sure the outcome is workable, practical and makes sense,” Howard said.

Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant can burn up to 800 tons of trash daily.

“Even through we are emitting carbon dioxide, it’s better than putting that trash in a landfill, which would create methane,” city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said.

Methane is produced when garbage decomposes. It’s a potent greenhouse gas, with a heat-trapping outcome 23 times higher than carbon dioxide, Feist noted.

Inslee, a longtime proponent of efforts to curb global warming, directed the Ecology Department to come up with binding emission limits. His rejected cap-and-trade plan sought to limit carbon emissions from about 100 businesses, including factories, refineries and power plants. Inslee also proposed a carbon fuel tax to raise money for new transportation projects.

Neither chamber of the Legislature approved the cap-and-trade proposal, and the package of new transportation projects approved this summer relies mainly on increases in the state gas tax and other vehicle fees. It also carries a “poison pill” that would cut money set aside for mass transit projects if state agencies tried to impose a carbon tax without legislative approval.

The new rules being proposed would work within the existing regulatory system, said Stu Clark, the Ecology Department’s air quality program manager.

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