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State receives a menu of climate change options

Washington now has a list of programs worldwide from which to steal, or borrow,  as a legislative panel tackles climate change in this state. 

The panel's consultant — Science Application International Corp. of Virginia — has done some initial sifting through worldwide climate change fix-it ventures to study, and SAIC presented that list to a panel of two Republican and two Democratic legislators led by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday.

"We like those free lessons from other places," Inslee said.

In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and trimming emissions to 25 percent below the 1990 level by 2035. So far, nothing has happened. Inslee successfully lobbied the Legislature to set up a task force to map out how those goals can be reached. The task force is supposed to have recommendations for the state Legislature by the end of 2013. The panel will meet next in early September.

Climate change and ocean acidification are major issues for Inslee. He has argued that carbon emissions will likely cost Washington's economy $10 billion by 2020 due to increased health costs, smaller snowpacks to feed irrigated croplands, greenhouse gases acidifying the ocean and killing shellfish larvae in Washington's waters, higher temperatures raising the risk of forest fires, and higher sea levels pushing more salt water into coastal water treatment plants. Today, the Earth's oceans are 30 percent more acidic than they were in the 18th century. That figure is expected to reach 150 percent by the end of the 21st century.

In 2010, 22 percent of Washington's greenhouse gases came from producing electricity, compared to about 17 percent in 1990. The use of natural gas in electrical generation accounted for most of that increase. Residential, commercial and industrial burning accounted for 21 percent of the state's greenhouse gases in 2010, up from 18.5 percent in 1990. Burning fuel for transportation made up almost 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gases in 1990, which grew to 44 percent in 2010.

Agricultural greenhouse emissions comprised one of the larger among a wide variety of other sources, but farming's contributions dropped from 5.6 percent to 5 percent of state discharges between 1990 and 2010. Industrial processes contribute about 4 percent, but saw an even sharper drop from their previous 7 percent of the state total. Waste management, on the other hand, went from 2.6 percent to 3 percent. 

SAIC has looked at emissions trading programs, carbon taxes, power production, transportation measures, industrial processes, reductions to wastes that create greenhouse gases, and water conservation. SAIC has targeted programs that appear to be the most relevant and most adaptable to Washington, said Christina Waldron, the firm's Washington climate change project manager.

The programs that SAIC recommends that Washington study include cap-and-trade, energy efficiency efforts, ways to increase public transit, British Columbia's carbon tax and cap-and-trade approaches to limiting emissions.

Under cap-and-trade, a state sets a maximum amount of emissions that a particular industry can produce. Companies within that industry can buy and sell their emissions allowances among each other.

SAIC recommended that Washington study California's cap-and-trade program, which will cover 35 percent of that state's greenhouse gas emissions in 2013-2014, increasing to covering 85 percent by 2020. A drawback is that California's system is still new, and its success is still up in the air.

SAIC also targeted the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, which has been around since 2005, and covers 45 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in 31 European nations. This is the most studied cap-and-trade system in the world. It is supposed to reduce Europe's 2005's greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent by 2020.

New Zealand's cap-and-trade system was also recommended for study because that nation heavily relies on hydropower like Washington, and its residents' average incomes are close to Washington's mark. Quebec has a new program similar to California's, but with a power system overwhelmingly based on hydro.

For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.

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