Obama and Gov. Jay Inslee: in sync on climate change measures?

Gov. Jay Inslee Credit: Governor's Office

How well will Gov. Jay Inslee's carbon emissions proposals mesh with national efforts to deal with climate change?

That will be answered June 2 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveils its proposed regulations to reduce carbon emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. President Barack Obama ordered the EPA to create the regulations as part of his plans to deal with climate change issues.

Making a visit in Seattle on Thursday, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy declined to give any details of the upcoming regulations.

"The rule is not out yet," she said. "I'm not going to make news on what it'll be like."

McCarthy met with Inslee and roughly 25 Washington environmental and business leaders Thursday to discuss tackling carbon emissions. McCarthy criticized opposition to limiting carbon emissions, saying, "They're trying to preserve their right to be wasteful, instead of trying to preserve the planet."

Gov. Inslee, who is in the midst of planning his next steps to control greenhouse gases, said, "This is a year of action to reduce carbon emissions."

So far, 10 states — California and a regional coalition of nine New England and Mid-Atlantic states — have established limits to industrials carbon emissions and have set up cap-and-trade programs to encourage innovative ways to deal with the limits.

Inslee wants Washington to become the 11th state to install a formal cap-and-trade program to control carbon emissions.

Last month, Inslee appointed a 21-member advisory panel to give him ideas for a climate change agenda to push during the 2015 legislative session. He created the panel after a 2013 legislative panel on climate deadlocked, along Republican and Democratic lines, on different approaches to dealing with climate change. The Democrats wanted to explore carbon emissions limits and cap-and-trade programs. Republicans — backed by major business lobby groups such as the Association of Washington Business — opposed those measures. Instead, Republican legislators wanted to explore adding more nuclear power and revoking the state's 2008 carbon emissions reduction law.

In 2008, Washington's Legislature set a goal of reducing the state's greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, with further trimming of emissions to 25 percent below Washington's 1990 level by 2035 and to 50 percent below by 2050. So far, nothing has happened. If no new remedial measures are tackled and the state' population growth continues, state discharges will blast away all the goals for reductions set five years ago.

Carbon emissions have been linked to acid rain, which falls into oceans, lakes and rivers. Acid rain is increasing the acidity of the water along Washington's shores including Puget Sound, which has begun killing baby oysters and harming other shellfish harvested in the Northwest. Washington’s shellfish industry is worth about $270 million annually.

In 2013, the legislative panel's technical consultant reported that the most potent proposed policy would be to install a cap-and-trade program in which Washington would have an overall annual limit on its carbon dioxide emissions. Limits would be set for specific geographic areas. Firms would obtain rights for specific amounts of emissions in those areas and could trade their rights.

While EPA's McCarthy was being mum about the upcoming Obama administration regulations, there are indications that the rules will move in many of the same directions as Inslee has in mind. Seattle-based Grist, a national leader in environmental news coverage, reported Wednesday that the rules for power plants will include state limits on total carbon emissions while trying to allow the states and utilities considerable flexibility on how to meet the limits.

The EPA is also likely to allow the states to join the California or Northeast cap-and-trade structures, or create their own new programs. If that's the case, Inslee could be quite happy. But for now, the EPA isn't saying what its rules will involve.

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