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Originally published April 13, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 13, 2007 at 2:03 AM

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Legislature 2007

Environment bill limits emissions

A late Thursday night vote in the state House of Representatives put Washington on the brink of becoming one of the few states with a law...

Seattle Times environment reporter

A late Thursday night vote in the state House of Representatives put Washington on the brink of becoming one of the few states with a law setting targets for cutting greenhouse gases in hope of stemming global warming, and imposing strict limits on emission from new power plants.

The measure, which passed 84-14 after a brief debate, commits Washington to shrink emissions to 1990's levels by 2020.

By 2035, the measure is supposed to lower emissions to 25 percent below 1990's levels, and to 50 percent by 2050.The Senate already has approved a similar bill but is expected to adopt the House version and send it to Gov. Christine Gregoire to be signed.

The measure, praised Thursday night by Republicans and Democrats, also would forbid most new power plants, or new long-term power contracts, if too much greenhouse gases are produced to make the power.

"We essentially have an agreement that will kick-start our battle against climate change," said Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, a leader in negotiations with the House.

Gregoire issued an executive order in February setting the same emissions targets, and creating a task force to figure out how to reach them.

But this would give them the force of law and make it trickier to back out later. The legislation also would go further with its power-plant restrictions.

It follows the lead of California, which last year became the first state to set targets for cutting greenhouse gases, and to restrict what kind of power utilities can buy based on a greenhouse-gas limit.

The Washington bill appeared to be on the verge of collapse just days ago, amid disagreements over how tough the limits should be on new power plants.

The California law, as well as the version of the bill passed earlier by the Washington state Senate, firmly limited greenhouse gases coming from new power plants.

Plants emitting too much of the gas would have to figure out how to permanently bury it underground.

That restriction would have imperiled a power plant that a coalition of public utilities called Energy Northwest wants to build in Southwest Washington.

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The approved bill negotiated by House leaders would allow that power plant to offset its emissions, rather than burying them. It would have to do that by buying another polluting power plant and shutting it down.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, who had pushed for flexibility to allow the Energy Northwest plant, said the deal encourages cleaner new power plants to replace older, dirtier ones.

The deal also appears to appease environmentalists, who had feared the limits would get watered down.

"It appears to be an aggressive statewide policy to address the No. 1 environmental threat," said Clifford Traisman, a lead environmental lobbyist.

Large companies that use a lot of power also dropped objections after the deal was reached. They opposed earlier versions of the bill because of worries that power rates would be driven up.

Times staff reporter Ralph Thomas contributed to this report.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com

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