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Inslee to avoid ‘poison pill’ with tougher enforcement of existing laws

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee believes he’s found a way to cut carbon pollution without activating a “poison pill” that would cut state money for mass transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

Inslee said Tuesday he was ordering the state Department of Ecology to step up enforcement of current pollution laws and develop a regulatory cap on carbon emissions in an effort to meet limits set by the Legislature in 2008. The department was directed to find ways to make substantial reductions in the emissions using existing authority.

“Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state,” he said.

Late last year, Inslee proposed a series of measures to fight pollution, including clean fuel standards and a cap-and-trade system with penalties for companies that produce the most carbon pollution in the state. But Senate Republicans were strongly opposed, saying state residents couldn’t afford both an increase in the gasoline tax and higher fuel costs from new carbon reduction systems, and the Democratic-controlled House couldn’t muster enough support to bring his proposals to a vote.

In negotiations for an increased gasoline tax and higher motor vehicle fees to support major transportation projects, Senate Republicans insisted that money allocated for some mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects would be rerouted to road projects if state agencies tried to impose a new carbon-reduction system, a stance that came to be known as a “poison pill.” In the Legislature’s second overtime session, Inslee said he was dropping his proposals for new carbon-reduction systems in an effort to get the package of new transportation projects through.

A new carbon-reduction strategy would have to wait until Senate Republicans changed their minds, or control of the chamber changed hands, he said.

That package passed, with the poison pill provisions included, and Inslee signed it last week. But his discussions with various environmental groups prompted speculation he would accept the cuts to mass transit and other projects in pursuit of his long-term goal to reduce carbon pollution.

Tuesday’s announcement, which was hailed by environmental groups and an advocacy group for bicyclists, doesn’t call for new policies or regulations. The department will use existing authority and involve a process that will take about a year to develop rules after hearing from all “stakeholders” that could be affected by the changes, Tuesday’s announcement from Inslee’s office said.

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