Friday, April 13, 2007

Washington State House Passes Global Warming Legislation

Legislation Banning New Pulverized Coal Plants and Establishing Statutory Global Warming Pollution Reduction Goals Passes State House

[From Associated Press/Forbes:]

The state House has passed a measure that would prohibit utilities from entering into long-term contracts with coal-fired power plants that produce excessive greenhouse gases.

The measure passed late Thursday night on a bipartisan 84-14 vote, but it must go back to the Senate for concurrence on language changes. Senate leaders have said they will agree to the language, which will ensure the bill will reach the governor's desk.

The measure is "putting Washington state at the forefront of cleaning up our own backyard," said Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon.

The measure finally came up for a vote after much negotiation between House and Senate leaders, as well as among environmentalists, utilities and industrial companies.

"We definitely have a deal the environmental community is comfortable with," said Clifford Traisman, a lobbyist for Washington Conservation Voters and the Washington Environmental Council.

Any new coal-fired plant would have to be able to inject into the ground any emissions of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide - in excess of 1,100 pounds of gas per megawatt hour. And utilities would be prevented from entering into contracts with plants in other states that don't meet the same cap.

There are two exceptions: two coal plants that have already begun the process, one in Kalama, and another in Wallula. If they are unable to inject their excess emissions underground, they would be allowed to offset them, by buying another high-emitting power plant and closing it down so that there is no net gain of emissions.

"This will stop construction of pulverized coal plants in Washington state," said Sen. Erik Poulsen, chairman of the Senate Water, Energy & Telecommunications Committee, who has negotiated extensively with the House and other stakeholders on the measure. "This is one of the biggest steps our state has taken on climate change."

In February, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed an executive order setting goals that would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Washington over the next 43 years.

The measure puts her goals into state statute, setting targets to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035; and to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 - or 70 percent below what is currently predicted for 2050.

By putting the goals into statute, it ensures that "a future governor can't undo or weaken our efforts to combat climate change," Poulsen said.

Gregoire's Climate Advisory Team, made up of more than 20 people representing environmental groups, business, labor, agriculture and others, had its first meeting last month. It will meet every few months, to determine actions the state can take.

Preliminary recommendations are expected to be made to the governor later this year. Final recommendations are expected by January.

Supporters said the standards would complement measures already in place, such as an initiative approved by voters in November that requires large utility companies to increase their renewable energy sources to 15 percent of their supply by 2020.

And in 2005, lawmakers adopted a version of California's emission standards for cars and light trucks. The new standards will start taking effect in 2009, and by 2016 all new cars, SUVs and light trucks sold in Washington will have to comply with the tougher standards.

Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, essentially trap energy from the sun, which warms the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. Many scientists believe human activity that increases those gases is contributing to global warming.

But opponents questioned whether global warming is a reality.

"I think the basis of this bill is philosophically different from what I believe in," said Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee.

"If you think there's an issue, come to Wenatchee sometime in January and we'll talk. I'd love to have a visit."

This is good news. An emissions performance standard is a great next step for Washington to rein in its global warming pollution. The compromise allowing the Kalama and Wallula IGCC projects to move forward is a bit of setback, given that the plants do not plan to sequester their emissions, but it will also provide an opportunity to demonstrate IGCC technology in the West and will still require the plants to offset their emissions, so it's not a bad compromise in my book.

Washington joins California who enacted an emissions performance standard (EPS) last year and this will add momentum to efforts to enact an EPS in Oregon, either through the legislature (a bill is expected later this session) or through Public Utility Commission regulation (a docket exploring an EPS will be opened later this year and a docket just opened yesterday on modeling of carbon risk in utility Integrated Resource Planning Processes that will take up aspects of this issue. [I am working on the carbon risk docket and will likely work on the EPS docket as well]).

Enacting Governor Gregoire's emissions reduction goals statutorily is also important. So far, there is no integrated plan for meeting those goals, but putting them in statute ensures that they will have a lot more force than an executive order.

The West Coast states are pushing forward on a variety of global warming and clean energy solutions, and I'm proud of the steps we've taken. There's always more to do, but these are important first steps, and the Western States are rolling forward now.

Congratulations to those in Washington who helped pass this important legislation.

The bill will return to the Senate for concurrence, so it's not a done deal yet, but it's prospects look good. A stronger version of the bill already passed the Senate earlier this session.

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