Carbon Tax Floated As Possible Replacement To Inslee's 'Clean Air Rule'

Mar 13, 2017

Polluting industries in Washington state don’t like Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap on carbon emissions -- and they don’t think it’s legal.

Inslee’s clean air rule was unveiled last September and went into effect in October. It’s been called a first-of-its-kind rule that caps and reduces carbon pollution by requiring polluters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over time.

The rule affects natural gas distributors, petroleum fuel producers and stationary sources such as power plants and waste facilities. An industry-backed lawsuit challenging the governor’s authority to implement the rule without legislative approval was filed shortly after the rule was made public.

The carbon cap is to be phased-in with 29 facilities affected initially, and 60 to 70 facilities regulated by 2035.

Representatives of affected industries testified that the cap on carbon emissions would have unintended consequences, including a loss of jobs.

Matthew Cohen, a lawyer who represents the Association of Washington Business, told a panel of state lawmakers that Inslee’s carbon cap rule “is a beached whale.”

Cohen told the House Environment Committee that the governor pushed through a “badly flawed rule” without legislative authority that should now be replaced.

But with what? Cohen floated the idea of a tax on carbon.

“A carbon tax is certainly one plausible alternative to what’s in the clean air rule, it’s another swipe at the problem,” Cohen said.

Cohen said if nothing else, a tax on carbon would be easier to understand than the current regulation.

Executives from Kansas-based Ash Grove cement flew to Washington to testify before the House committee. Curtis Lesslie, the vice president of environmental affairs, said that the clean air rule is the equivalent of a “death warrant” for his company’s Seattle plant.

“[It’s] putting facilities like us, heavily trade exposed, energy intensive industries on death row,” Lesslie said. “So it’s not really a matter of if, but when. How long can we survive.”

He also argued that the clean air rule could have the unintended consequence of increasing carbon emissions by creating a situation where more cement from China is shipped to Washington.

Industries deemed trade-exposed would not have to comply with the clean air rule until 2020.

The Inslee administration argues that Washington is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change including reduced snowpack and increased wildfires. There’s also a law that requires Washington to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 25-percent below 1990 levels by 2035.

Environmentalists note that even with Inslee’s clean air rule, the state won’t meet that goal. Still they praise Inslee’s efforts and are helping to defend the rule in court.

“While the clean air rule is not perfect ... it is a huge step in the right direction,” said Sasha Pollack with the Washington Environmental Council.

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, the state emits about 94 million metric tons of carbon pollution a year. The carbon rule covers about two-thirds of those emissions.