On April 29, 2014, Governor Inslee signed Executive Order 14-04, titled “Washington Carbon Reduction and Clean Energy Action.” This order supersedes two orders by Washington’s prior governor (EO 07-02 and EO 09-05) and will serve as the framework for Governor Inslee’s actions on climate change. EO 14-04 is a dense nine pages long, and was informed by the work of the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group, and other academic and policy information sources. Governor Inslee is taking ten measures to address the issues raised by current research into climate change. Here are some of the highlights:

1. Establishing a Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce: Convening for the first time on the day EO 14-04 was signed, this taskforce is being created to provide recommendations on the design and implementation of carbon emission limits and market mechanisms for Washington. The target for the taskforce’s work is legislation to be introduced by the Governor in the next legislative session. Governor Inslee has put some parameters around the carbon emissions reduction program he wishes to see in Washington, including (1) a cap on pollution emissions, with binding requirements to meet statutory emission limits; and (2) inclusion of market mechanisms needed to meet emission limits in the “most effective and efficient manner possible.”

2.  Coal-Fired Electricity: Continuing the trend that started with the phase-out of the TransAlta’s coal-fired power plant in Centralia, the Governor stated a goal of reduction and then elimination of electric power produced with coal. Besides the TransAlta plant, Washington receives some power from the Colstrip facility in Montana, and Governor Inslee is authorizing the Legislative Affairs and Policy Office to negotiate with utilities on the reduction of use of electricity generated from coal.

3.  Clean Transportation: The Governor sets a number of goals regarding the Washington Department of Transportation, including developing an action plan to advance electric vehicle use, programs related to transportation efficiency (including updating comprehensive plans to maximize transportation efficiency); and identifying increased investment opportunities in multimodal transportation. Nested in this action item is the a study on a low carbon fuel standard, contained in the Governor’s directive to the Office of Financial Management to perform a study on the “technical feasibility, costs and benefits, and job implications of requiring the use of cleaner transportation fuels through standards that reduce carbon intensity of these fuels over time.”

4.  Clean Technology: The Governor sets a number of goals related to clean technology. These include asking the Washington State Energy Program to work with the Utilities and Transportation Commission, the Department of Commerce and other state agencies to review statutes, rules, policies, and incentives for solar energy in Washington.

5.  Energy Efficiency: The Governor is asking the Department of Commerce to work with the Washington State University Energy Program, the State Building Code and other agencies to “develop, and implement to the extent possible and consistent with state and federal law, a new statewide program to significantly improve the energy performance” of both public and private buildings. This sounds like a lofty goal, but arguably is the area where Washington as a state can achieve the most gains from an energy consumption perspective. Reading the Governor’s goals made me think of Denis Haye’s comments on Earth Day with respect to shifting environmental policies, and the increased focus on energy efficiency in building codes.

The Governor also set goals in terms of state government operations, agency coordination, review of greenhouse gas emission limits, and coordination with legislative committees and members.

My first reaction to the Governor’s plans includes these points:

1. The taskforce is Governor Inslee’s latest attempt at implementing cap-and-trade in Washington. The taskforce includes representatives from business, labor, public interest, and public health, although its composition is already drawing criticism from the editorial board of the Seattle Times for not including sufficient business representation. Undoubtedly, the work of the taskforce will be both important and controversial, and, if the current composition of the state house and senate is preserved through election season, it may be necessary for the taskforce to craft legislative recommendations with bipartisan appeal should there be any hope of the Governor advancing his goals in the next legislative session. Already, there are grumblings from across the aisle about the Governor’s agenda.

2. I’m willing to bet that the carbon dioxide emissions associated with power produced at Colstrip are minor in comparison to TransAlta’s Centralia facility, so the heavy lifting on reducing the use of coal-generated electricity in Washington has already been done through the agreement to phase out the Centralia facility. But, even if the Colstrip phase-out is not significant, it reflects Washington’s strong policies and sentiment with respect to coal.

3.  The study of a low-carbon fuel standard as part of the clean transportation agenda is the latest in a saga on this subject. Back in January, the Governor exchanged correspondence with the Republican Senate Majority Caucus in response to grumblings that he would impose a low carbon fuel standard by executive order. He also faced blowback from a study performed for the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup that imposing such a standard would cost about a dollar a gallon. In a state where increasing gasoline taxes to fund transportation infrastructure is difficult enough, adding a dollar a gallon to gasoline costs is probably politically impossible. The Governor is likely using this current study as a way to generate support that the low carbon fuel standard will not be that expensive. Expect the low carbon fuel standard to continue to be a hot topic in Washington.

4. With respect to solar, it is worth noting Governor Inslee campaigned heavily on the importance of clean technology to Washington’s economy, and solar is an important piece of that economic future. Despite Washington’s reputation as a cloudy and rainy place, solar still has great potential to provide renewable energy to the state. However, Washington is a laggard in promoting solar power, ranking almost dead last in terms of the economics for homeowners to own solar in the United States. Hopefully, these efforts studying the issue will lead to regulatory reform that makes owning solar in Washington a more economically viable option.

In closing, many of these executive-level efforts will only succeed with legislative action in 2015 or beyond. To have any chance of such action, the Governor needs to hope for changes in the legislative composition in the fall elections, or he needs to build bridges with the Republican senators during the next few months as EO 14-04 is implemented.