Committee guts Gregoire's emissions-cap plan
Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases linked to global warming is facing serious challenges in the Legislature. The Senate Committee on Environment, Water and Energy today passed a version that gutted the heart of the plan by making it voluntary for businesses to participate.
The Associated Press
Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases linked to global warming is facing serious challenges in the Legislature.
The Senate Committee on Environment, Water and Energy today passed a version that gutted the heart of the plan by making it voluntary for businesses to participate.
The governor's proposal would require major industries, from Boeing to Kimberly-Clark, to limit the greenhouse gases they emit, starting in 2012. The plan would create a regional market to let polluters buy and trade pollution credits.
The goal is to reduce overall carbon dioxide and other emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020, and to half that level by 2050. The state adopted those targets in 2008.
The Senate bill is significantly different from the governor's plan. It asks the state Department of Ecology to design voluntary emission targets and a voluntary emissions reduction registry and report back to the Legislature.
"It's a work in progress," Ecology Director Jay Manning said Tuesday, adding he was pleased the legislation was still alive. He said the state would work with the Legislature to find a proposal both could support.
A House bill passed last week sets a cap on greenhouse-gas emissions but leaves the details of the "trade" to be hammered out by a work group. Both bills are waiting further action.
Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, prime sponsor of the Senate bill, said he hoped to "encourage our local industries to move forward toward the statewide emissions targets."
"I know there are a lot of people who would think the bill is, you might say, watered-down and voluntary," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Kent, who voted for it today. "You don't turn a supertanker at a right-angle turn, you move into things gradually."
Businesses have fiercely opposed Gregoire's plan, saying it would put them at a disadvantage in an already slumping economy. Some urged lawmakers to wait for a national program.
"I'm not being a naysayer, but are you creating an environment that I can survive in?" asked Steve Sakuma, an owner of Sakuma Brothers, a family-run business that operates a farm and food-processing facility in Burlington. "I'm a little uneasy because I could potentially be in a position where I'm less competitive."
Bart Kale, environmental manager of Nucor Steel, said the issue is a global one.
"Every one of our competitors is outside of the state, so a regional cap-and-trade program that raises local energy costs is going to be a cost that our competitors are not going to have to bear."
But supporters say the proposal would encourage businesses to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy alternatives and that it would create clean energy and other jobs.
A new study conducted by ECONorthwest for the University of Oregon's Climate Leadership Initiative found that Washington is likely to experience about $3.8 billion in associated annual costs, including $1.3 billion in health-related costs, if nothing is done.
Environmentalists, who have made a cap-and-trade plan a priority this legislative session, remained encouraged that both the Senate and House bills were still in play.
"There are three different versions of the bill, which shows that this is literally a work in progress," said Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council.
He added that it was hard to imagine how a voluntary program could work or be successful.
Janice Adair, special assistant to Manning, said she wasn't clear how the Senate version "helps us get down the road any more other than what we've already done."
She noted a 2008 study by the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that found voluntary greenhouse gas-reduction programs have limited potential.
But Traisman said the bills are "an indication that the state is serious in passing meaningful legislation."
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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