OLYMPIA — A House bill seeks to fully reinstate Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to cap carbon pollution in the state by giving additional authority to the state Department of Ecology on who it can regulate.
The proposal is a response to a recent state Supreme Court ruling that said the state’s Clean Air Rule cannot apply to companies that sell or distribute petroleum or natural gas because they don’t make their own emissions.
In a 5-4 ruling last month, the state’s high court said that the Department of Ecology only has the authority to regulate “actual emitters.”
So while power plants, factories and other big polluters still have to cut their emissions under the rule, about three-quarters of the emissions under the rule come indirectly from petroleum and natural gas importers and sellers and are no longer covered.
The House Environment and Energy Committee held a public hearing Monday on the bill that would revise the state’s definitions of “emission” and “emission standard” to include both direct and indirect emissions.
Chris Davis, the senior policy adviser on climate and energy affairs for Inslee, noted that in its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that the Legislature could expand the definition of emission standards if it wanted to.
“There can be no real logical reason that the Legislature would intend for Ecology to have the authority to regulate some of the state’s major greenhouse emissions while leaving the vast majority unaddressed,” he said. “Making this fix is really a matter of fairness.”
Opponents argued that the measure gives too much authority to the Department of Ecology.
“If the Legislature is going to direct Ecology to regulate indirect emitters then the Legislature should be very clear in designing this new authority and develop policy direction, parameters and sideboards that bound the agency in their new expanded authority,” said Greg Hanon, representing Western States Petroleum Association. “Absent these sideboards, it would be difficult to overstate the impact this bill will have on Washington’s energy producing and consuming industries as well as on consumers.”
After the Legislature failed to adopt a cap-and-trade program, Inslee directed Ecology in 2015 to use authority under the 1967 Clean Air Act to limit carbon emissions from Washington’s largest sources. He called climate change a threat to the state and said the new regulations would help Washington meet its requirements to reduce carbon emissions.
The Clean Air Rule requires facilities to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 1.7 percent annually and report those emissions every three years. They also could invest in projects that permanently reduce carbon pollution or buy credits from other companies or carbon markets.
A Thurston County Superior Court judge struck down the rule after it was challenged by industry groups. The four justices in the minority on the Supreme Court ruling would have reinstated it entirety.
Committee chairman Joe Fitzgibbon, a Democrat from Seattle who sponsored the measure, acknowledged at the start of the hearing that there are number of questions that the bill doesn’t address and are worth lawmakers’ consideration.
“What constitutes indirect emissions, I think that’s a central question,” he said. “If we’re going to authorize regulation of those things, we need a very clear and precise definition of what that encompasses.”