There is so much that caught my eye this week that I couldn’t make it to Friday before putting this list up.

First, on the energy policy front, I’d be remiss in not highlighting President Obama’s agreement with China with respect to carbon emissions. The internet and social media are awash in analysis and commentary

EPA released a draft of its Clean Power Plan Rule yesterday, a topic that dominated my Twitter feed all day and already is sharpening the debate on the use of policy and the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon emissions. Our first reaction to the rule was that it likely will have little impact on carbon policy in Washington State. We already enjoy one of the least carbon-intensive energy infrastructures due to the abundance of hydroelectric energy in Washington, and Washington has already negotiated the phase-out of its only coal fired power plant, operated by TransAlta in Centralia, through the passage of Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 5769 back in 2011.

Then, yesterday afternoon, the AP released this story with the headline, “EPA says Washington must cut emissions by 72 percent,” and a picture of a coal train in downtown Seattle. The article contains a few quotes from various parties regarding the implications of the proposed Clean Power Plan Rule in Washington. I was curious where the 72 percent number came from, and decided to dig into the draft rule yesterday evening.

Here is what I found:


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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.


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USA Today had an article last week with the worst good news for carbon emissions that I’ve read in a while. The good news was that U.S. emissions fell to the lowest rate since the mid-1990s, dropping 200 million tons, or 3.8 percent. The bad news is that world carbon emissions rose by 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of carbon, with growth in emissions up 300 million tons or 3.8 percent since 2011. Developing countries now account for 60 percent of global emissions from energy use, up from 45 percent in 2000.

So what does that tell us? Does it mean that the people who have resisted any national energy policy for the United States, much less having the United States sign international carbon treaties are right – there is nothing that the United States can do that makes any difference? On a happier note, does it mean that the United States is actually doing quite well, making steady progress towards the goal of reducing its carbon emissions to sustainable levels?

I would answer those questions “no” and “no.” There are no simple answers in the search for sustainability. At a headlines-level, the report is bewildering and disheartening. But the report provides layers of data, precisely because achieving carbon sustainability is not going to be possible if you don’t look behind the headlines.
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