OLYMPIA – The state’s environmental agency would have more power to regulate carbon dioxide pollution under proposals approved by committees in both legislative chambers Thursday, despite efforts by Republicans to trim back that authority.
House and Senate committees passed similar bills to give the Department of Ecology the power to regulate “indirect” emissions of carbon dioxide and similar greenhouse gases thought to be a cause of global climate change.
Those include motor vehicle exhaust and the use of natural gas to heat homes and businesses, which are hard to control where those substances are used and the carbon dioxide is produced.
If the state is going to be serious about controlling greenhouse gases, it can’t leave out oil and gas products, House Environment and Energy Committee Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Seattle, said.
“This is a crisis we’ve known about for decades,” said Fitzgibbon, the sponsor of the House bill. “We’ve taken baby steps addressing it and it’s a challenge that requires much bigger steps.”
The department has been inconsistent in applying its rules, Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said. “One of the things we know we need in the economy is certainty,” he said.
The department already has the authority to set standards for direct emission sources, such as factories and other stationary facilities. But a recent state Supreme Court ruling said the law giving the department that power doesn’t specify it includes indirect emissions. In a split decision, the court struck down the standards for petroleum refineries and utilities that distribute natural gas, which create products but don’t consume them.
That prompted Gov. Jay Inslee to ask the Legislature to give the department specific authority over indirect emission sources. Critics said the change is being rushed through in a short legislative session.
The court ruling “doesn’t mean we have to rush into bad policy,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said at the Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.
The Senate bill would give the Ecology Department too much authority over transportation policy, said Hobbs, who as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, has plans of his own.
The bill is just being consistent with authority over direct sources the court agrees the department has, Environment Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said: “We clarify court cases all the time.”
Republicans couldn’t block the bills because they’re in minorities in both chambers, so they tried to change it through amendments.
Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, proposed removing the department’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in counties with an average lower household income than the state average or counties with higher unemployment rates than the state average.
“We should not put any pressure on the good-paying jobs in those counties,” Dye said.
Other Republicans proposed exempting the forest products industry, aerospace industry, recycling operations, the ports or businesses related to foreign trade.
In the Senate, Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, proposed requiring the Legislature to approve any rule on indirect emissions made by “well-intentioned, unelected bureaucrats” at the department. He also proposed tying the increased cost of any regulation on indirect emissions to Washington’s share of the world’s carbon pollution, which he said was .00375%.
All those amendments failed.
With committee approval of the Senate bill assured, Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, said he wanted to remind Democrats the governor appoints the head of the Ecology Department.
“So be careful what you ask for,” said Fortunato, who is running for governor.
Each bill was sent to its respective chamber for a full vote.
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