Washington Gov. Inslee to Impose State Carbon Cap

Published September 8, 2015

Frustrated by his inability to get the Washington State Legislature to approve a comprehensive climate change bill, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) on July 28 directed the state’s Department of Ecology to “develop a regulatory cap on carbon emissions.”

“Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state,” Inslee said in his statement announcing the plan. “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.”

All Cap, No Trade

Unlike a contentious bill stalled in the legislature, Inslee’s regulatory cap will not charge businesses for emitting carbon dioxide and thus will not raise revenues for the state. The emissions-charge provision of the proposed legislation has been widely criticized as a $1 billion a year energy tax and is thought to have contributed to the bill’s demise. Inslee’s initiative also abandons the bill’s scheme to create a carbon credit trading market.

Whether Inslee has the authority to act unilaterally under the state Clean Air Act will likely be settled in court.

“I don’t think he has the ability to do it via rule,” state Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) told The Seattle Times on July 28.

Todd Myers, environmental director at the Washington Policy Center, says the vagueness of the proposal will harm the state’s business climate.

“The governor announced a unilateral cap on emissions without saying what that means,” said Myers. “He says it will be finished next year, yet his own Department of Ecology says it will take at least two years to figure it out.

“This policy is the worst of all possible worlds and would harm the economy and the environment,” Myers said. “The cost and uncertainty would have a huge impact on economic growth in Washington State.

“Ironically, it won’t reduce carbon emissions but will simply move energy-intensive industries offshore,” Myers said. “Our state has experience with this. In 2001, many of Washington’s aluminum plants moved out of state when energy prices rose. Other plants picked up the slack, however, so emissions didn’t decline.”

“Washington simply lost those jobs,” said Myers. “Inslee’s strict cap will repeat that process, costing jobs while doing little or nothing to cut emissions.”

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.