Gregoire says emissions plan would also create jobs
As Washington's economy reels, Gov. Chris Gregoire sent state lawmakers a plan she said would create new high-tech jobs while clamping down on greenhouse-gas pollution. The proposal, in bills introduced in the state House and Senate, would make Washington one of the first states to embrace broad limits on carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming.
Seattle Times environment reporter
As Washington's economy reels, Gov. Chris Gregoire sent state lawmakers a plan she said would create new high-tech jobs while clamping down on greenhouse-gas pollution.
The proposal, in bills introduced in the state House and Senate, would make Washington one of the first states to embrace broad limits on carbon dioxide and other emissions linked to global warming.
Gregoire said forcing businesses to confront greenhouse-gas pollution would help propel the state's economy toward growing demand for "green-collar" jobs in fields like renewable energy and energy efficiency.
Not tackling the problem, Gregoire said, puts the state at risk of missing future business trends, much as U.S. automakers fell behind their foreign competitors.
"Look at Detroit, just look at Detroit," she said at a news conference Thursday to announce the bills. "Detroit is in much worse economic times than Washington state could ever imagine. Why? Because we didn't anticipate what would be needed in the automobile industry."
But a Republican lawmaker and a leading business group expressed concerns about the impacts of new, potentially costly regulations during a crushing recession.
"I think green-collar jobs are great. I just think blue-collar jobs are ones in this state that we don't want to go away," said Shelly Short, R-Addy, the ranking minority member on the House Parks and Ecology Committee.
Starting in 2012, House Bill 1819 and its Senate companion, 5735, would seek to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from major sources, such as cement plants, pulp mills and companies with large fleets of cars. The long-term goal is to get total statewide emissions in 2050 down to 50 percent below 1990's levels.
It would rely on a system known as "cap and trade." The state would set an overall limit on greenhouse-gas pollution, and each big polluter would get its share of pollution permits.
Over time, the cap and the number of permits would shrink. Companies could either cut their emissions, or buy permits from other companies in the equivalent of a stock market.
A cap-and-trade system is the holy grail for environmentalists, who say it would use the efficiency of market trading to force companies to cut greenhouse gases.
Gregoire paired the regulations with a proposed tax break for people buying plug-in hybrid cars that run chiefly on electricity, $455 million in state energy-efficiency projects and a call for stiffer energy-efficiency requirements in the state building code.
Gregoire dismissed concerns that new regulations could hurt businesses during the recession, noting the rules wouldn't kick in until 2012. Even then, the bill would give the governor the power to suspend the regulations in case of an economic emergency.
But Grant Nelson, of the Association of Washington Business, cautioned that the bills were so vague they amounted to a blank check for state bureaucrats to write the important details.
"This is a huge 'trust me' bill," said Nelson, whose organization opposes the bills.
One big question unanswered by Gregoire's proposal: Would polluters have to buy the initial permits from the state, or get them for free?
Gregoire's representatives had tried to settle on a specific percentage to sell, but dropped the idea after meeting political resistance. Instead, that's left to a task force, which would make recommendations to the state Department of Ecology.
Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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