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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kaiser Aluminum cautiously optimistic about new plan to tackle carbon pollution

Kaiser Aluminum officials say they’re cautiously optimistic about Washington’s new proposal for reducing carbon emissions, which could give the company’s Trentwood plant credit for previous efforts to reduce energy use.

Kaiser’s Trentwood plant is among 70 facilities statewide that would be required to cut its greenhouse gas emissions or purchase credits to offset emissions under the proposed state rule.

On Wednesday, Department of Ecology officials released a revised draft rule, which they said provides more flexibility for business expansion, while still curbing the state’s output of carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases responsible for climate change.

An earlier draft of the rule was withdrawn in February after criticism from both business and environmental groups. Both Kaiser and the Steelworkers Union said the earlier plan raised concerns about the Trentwood plant’s ability to remain competitive globally.

Sarah Rees, the Department of Ecology’s special assistant on climate change policy, said the agency heard and acted on the concerns.

Under the new proposal, Kaiser and other Washington manufacturers that use large amounts of energy and sell their products overseas would be given individual targets for emissions reductions, instead of a blanket goal of cutting emissions by 5 percent every three years. The targets would be based on how efficient the Washington facilities are compared to their industry peers in the U.S., Rees said.

In addition, some facilities could count previous carbon emission reductions toward their target.

Kyle England, a senior manager at Kaiser’s Trentwood plant, said the company and union officials will continue to work with agency officials on the draft rule, which is expected to be finalized in late summer.

“We’re proud of the contribution our employees have already made to reduce our emissions and the carbon intensity of our products,” England said.

Kaiser’s Trentwood plant makes aluminum sheet and plate products for the aerospace industry and other manufacturers, employing more than 800 people in Spokane Valley. The plant is in the midst of a $150 million, five-year upgrade.

Since 2010, Kaiser has reduced its carbon emissions by 15 percent for every pound of aluminum produced at the Trentwood plant, he said. The plant’s ongoing push to create lighter, stronger products also means lighter airplanes, which use less fuel, he said.

If it becomes cheaper to make airplane parts in another state or country, the jobs could move without producing real reductions in emissions, England said.

The draft rule follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s failure to get a cap-and-trade system and carbon tax approved by the 2014 Legislature.

The proposed rule initially targets about 24 industrial facilities, which would have to start reducing emissions or purchasing credits by 2017. By 2035, about 70 facilities would be covered under the rule. Both Spokane’s waste-to-energy plant and Avista Utilities would have to comply with the rule.

State officials didn’t have an estimate Wednesday on how much the new rules would cost consumers at the gas pump or on their utility bills, but said those costs would be available before the new rules are adopted.

Some environmental groups wanted steeper carbon emissions reductions. Washington should be aiming for reductions of about 8 percent annually to avoid the worst repercussions of climate change, the Western Environmental Law Center said in a statement.

The Association of Washington Business released a statement saying the rule is a new layer of regulation that would drive up energy costs for the state’s employers and families.