Editor's note: The following summary represents state and utility stances after the Supreme Court stayed the Clean Power Plan in February 2016.
Washington is in good shape to meet its Clean Power Plan target of a 37.2 percent emissions rate reduction by 2030 and is moving ahead on multiple policy fronts.
Inslee said Washington would keep planning for the Clean Power Plan, regardless of a Supreme Court decision halting implementation of the rule. "We will continue to take steps that reduce carbon and to lead the nation in clean energy," Inslee said in a statement. "The EPA's Clean Power Plan remains a crucial tool to ensure that every state must do its part, and to empower them to do so."
Gov. Jay Inslee's (D) Department of Ecology is working on compliance with the CPP, as well as his own state-level rule to limit emissions from all large industrial sources.
Inslee's plan, known as the Clean Air Rule, would subject emitters of more than 100,000 tons per year of carbon to a 5 percent reduction every three years. In addition to power plants, the program would initially cover about 70 facilities statewide, including refineries, landfills and aerospace manufacturers. It would ratchet up to cover smaller emitters.
Rather than setting a statewide cap and creating allowances that are distributed at state-run auctions, the program lets emitters comply with their individual caps by submitting pollution allowances from other programs, including California's emissions market and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast.
State lawmakers also are pursuing tailored efforts to wean individual power companies off coal-fired electricity, while citizen groups are considering ballot initiatives to tax carbon. It's not clear yet how all of the policies might interact.
"It's like a four-ring circus," said Philip Jones, a commissioner on the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. "We have all this stuff going on. It's hard to keep it straight, but we're going to continue to move forward."
Utility officials prefer engaging with the Clean Power Plan, which allows trading with other states.
"Our general stance is that we think that CPP should prevail here, not a state rule," said Ry Schwark, a spokesman for Pacific Power, the arm of utility PacifiCorp that has operations in Washington, Oregon and California.
The state has said it plans to request the two-year extension that EPA is allowing for states working on CPP compliance. "It's been pointed out we can ask for an extension; that's currently our preferred approach," said the Department of Ecology's air quality program manager, Stu Clark, at a Jan. 20 legislative hearing.
Still unclear is how the Clean Air Rule, which covers all industrial emitters, would mesh with the CPP, which covers only power plants. A difference between the two is that the CPP does not allow offsets, which could disqualify programs that use allowances from out-of-state programs.
"There's still a lot of questions underway about how these two different yet similar efforts would work together," said Department of Ecology spokeswoman Joanna Ekrem.
Whatever happens, Washington is on track to meet its 2030 CPP target of 2030 emissions rate of 983 pounds of carbon per megawatt-hour of power. It gets about 70 percent of its electricity from hydropower -- giving it the lowest retail electricity rates in the country -- and has 11 power plants that fall under EPA's rule, 10 of them natural-gas-fired.
The only coal-fired plant is TransAlta's Centralia plant, which accounts for more than half of the state's power-sector carbon emissions. It's already scheduled to shut down or convert to natural gas by 2025.
A big question is how Washington will choose to interact with nearby states like coal-heavy Montana, from which it imports a significant portion of its electricity despite being a net exporter. The state's largest utility, Puget Sound Energy, has put forth a bill in the state Legislature that would allow it to increase its ownership of Montana's Colstrip coal-fired power plant so it could have enough control to decommission it.
Last updated on February 24, 2016 at 5:47 PM