Ecology Department Recommends More Stringent Targets For Carbon Emissions In Washington

Dec 20, 2016

The Washington State Department of Ecology is recommending more aggressive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the state. The agency has submitted new targets to the Legislature.

A law passed in 2008 set an initial goal of reducing Washington’s carbon emissions to half of what they were in 1990 by the year 2050. Now, the department says we need to get to an 80 percent reduction by that time. They also recommend getting to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2035.

Air quality program manager Stu Clark says state law requires that the goals be regularly reviewed. And the new targets are in line with the latest science and recent international reports and agreements.

“We looked at what the U.S. had committed to in Paris, we looked at what other states and even some countries have done in terms of setting limits,” Clark said. “So, we’re well within the norm of what other people are doing and what other people are considering or what they have on the books as limits.”  

Clark says it won’t be easy, but meeting the tougher targets would be helped by implementation of the state’s new Clean Air Rule, which requires big polluters such as power plants to curb their carbon output. There's also the prospect of a tax on carbon emissions to speed things along -- that proposal is in Governor Jay Inslee's budget, released last week.

And Clark says the biggest source of emissions here is still transportation, so a key goal will be getting more fuel-efficient cars on the roads. He also says there’s still a lot to gain through energy efficiency.

“We’ve got so many old buildings in Washington that aren’t up to current codes; it could save a lot of money for owners and occupants of those buildings if we improved energy efficiency and conservation upgrades,” he said.

The state Legislature can choose whether to adopt the recommendations or even consider them at all when it reconvenes next year.

Meanwhile, a group of young people who say the Department of Ecology’s standard isn’t aggressive enough are making progress with their legal claims. A King County judge allowed their suit to move forward, ruling Monday that the eight plaintiffs can add the state of Washington and Governor Jay Inslee as defendants in their case. 

They’re suing over what they say is their constitutional right to clean air. They want emissions reductions that would keep long-term warming to no more than 1 degree Celsius.  Ecology’s new standard is designed to keep warming between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris accords.  

The judge wrote in her ruling that the youth should have "the opportunity to address their concerns in a court of law … before efforts to address climate change are too costly and too late."

The Department of Ecology says the agency updated the state's targets as required and authorized by the 2008 law and not motivated by the case. They base their recommendations on the latest reports from scientists at the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change and  University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.