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Gregoire orders state agencies to cut greenhouse-gas emissions

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday ordered the state to reach agreement with its single largest polluter to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by half over the next 15 years.

Seattle Times reporters

Video: Climate change rally

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Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday ordered the state to reach agreement with its single largest polluter to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by half over the next 15 years.

On a day when nearly 1,000 people waving signs and banners rallied on Seattle's waterfront in support of efforts to tackle global warming, Gregoire told state agencies to take several actions to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

The executive orders include:

• requiring the Department of Ecology to make emission-reductions plans for all of the state's top industrial greenhouse-gas polluters by next year;

• requiring the departments of Commerce and Transportation to come up with a way to set standards on the amount of carbon emitted during production, distribution and use of certain vehicle fuels;

• and requiring the Transportation department to negotiate new plans with the state's largest counties and regional councils to reduce driving.

Many of the actions aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions were lifted from a climate bill the Legislature failed to pass earlier this spring. As a result, "a lot of this is about directing state agencies to think about doing things in new ways," said Becky Kelley, with the Washington Environmental Council. "It may not sound big, but that's how change happens. It's how work really gets done."

The ranking Republican on the state House energy committee, Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, said she would have preferred the governor let lawmakers negotiate a new proposal, rather than issue executive orders.

Even so, plans to halve emissions from Centralia's coal-fired Transalta Power Plant by 2025, struck the company as fair and achievable.

"The technology we'd need doesn't exist today, but gives us time to get there and set up milestones along the way," said Marcy McAuley, spokeswoman for the coal plant. The plant accounts for roughly 10 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions in Washington that aren't from transportation sources.

The governor's orders came shortly after she testified at a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hearing in favor of the EPA's plan to name greenhouse gases dangerous pollutants — a first step toward regulating carbon emissions.

Outside the hearing at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center on the Seattle waterfront, activists like Morgan True — dressed in a full-body salmon costume — rallied to show their support.

"Global warming is tough for all species, humans and salmon alike," said True, with Save Our Wild Salmon.

Supporters dressed as polar bears and fish, and carrying giant replicas of bees, the sun and salmon, milled through the crowd on Pier 66, stopping for pictures or to chat with onlookers. Children and adults of all ages clapped and waved posters decorated with phrases such as "we deserve a cool planet" and "it's time for action on climate change."

David Friedman of Seattle, took off work for the day to attend the rally. He was dressed as Poseidon, Greek god of the sea, wearing a toga and a crown made of seashells.

"This is an opportunity to speak our minds," Friedman said. He added in a less serious, yet ominous tone: "We don't want to see the Earth come to the fate of Atlantis."

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and state Department of Ecology Director Jay Manning affirmed Washington's efforts to fight climate change and called on national leaders to do the same.

"I truly believe as big as this is, as scary as climate change is, I think we can turn this around," Manning said above the cheers. "But it'll only happen if you demand it."

Paul Loeb commuted from West Seattle to the rally on his electric bike, determined to be present for one of only two EPA hearings in the country on the greenhouse-gas proposal.

He uses solar panels at home and applauds efforts to be green, but he said real change will only come through nationwide policy and support.

Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or cwelch@seattletimes.com

Michelle Ma: 206-464-2303 or mma@seattletimes.com

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