Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday directed the state Department of Ecology to put a cap on carbon emissions by stepping up enforcement of existing pollution laws.
In a news release, the governor announced he would use his authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution in the face of staunch opposition from Republicans and the oil industry to stronger legislative measures.
"Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state," Inslee said in a statement. "Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn't acted to protect them."
The governor asked Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon to develop "substantive emission reductions" in a public process that is expected to take about a year. The cap would force a reduction in air pollution, according to the governor's office, and will be a key part of Inslee's strategy for meeting emission limits set by the state Legislature.
Unlike legislation Inslee had proposed earlier this year, the regulatory cap will not charge emitters for carbon pollution, so it won't raise revenue for state operations. It would not create a market for trading emission credits either, though the governor's office says emitters may be able to trade amongst themselves.
"This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action," Inslee said. "But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution, so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps."
Inslee said he will not pursue a clean fuel standard for the state, a way to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fuel that was preempted in a transportation bill passed this year by the Washington Legislature.
The governor's announcement was celebrated by the environmental group Futurewise.
“Governor Inslee’s action to set a cap on carbon is the kind of bold action we need to reduce our carbon emissions and move other states to take action as well,” says Hilary Franz, Executive Director of Futurewise. “We are excited that the governor has found a way to avoid the Senate Republican’s false choice and to keep funding intact for transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that is critical to the health and environment of our communities while also taking significant steps to actually reduce carbon emissions.”
A phone message requesting comment from Washington's Senate Republican communications director was not immediately returned.
We will be updating this story this afternoon as more information becomes available.