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Rules Force Washington To Cut Emissions More Than Other States

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The Environmental Protection Agency has announced strict new carbon emissions regulations. Washington state has the largest reduction target — about 72 percent overall.


There will be winners. And there will be losers, under the new climate change rules, from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has set goals state-by-state. The overall aim is to lower greenhouse gas emissions from power plants to 30 percent below what levels were back in 2005. From member station KUOW in Seattle, Ashley Ahearn reports Washington state is being held to a tougher standard than other states.

ASHLEY AHEARN, BYLINE: Washington has one of the lowest CO2 emissions levels from electricity generation, in the country. Yet, under the new EPA rules Washington is on the hook to cut those emissions by more than any other state. Gov. Jay Inslee isn't worried.

GOVERNOR JAY INSLEE: It's a goal that we can, should and will meet, in part, because we've already taken early action in our state.

AHEARN: The most important early action? Deciding to phase out Washington's only remaining coal-fired power plant by 2025. The plant is responsible for almost 70 percent of the state emissions from electricity generation. That's always exactly how much the EPA says Washington has to cut to meet the requirements.

KC GOLDEN: Yes, we are ahead of the game.

AHEARN: That's KC Golden, senior policy advisor for Climate Solutions, an advocacy group based in Seattle. Washington state has already committed to more renewable energy and energy efficiency, at the state level. But Golden says, there's a lot more work to be done. And the EPA rules are actually pretty lenient.

GOLDEN: If you measure by what we need to be doing in order to stave off dangerous climate change, then we're behind the game.

AHEARN: Top of the list for Golden? Get this state off of coal power generated elsewhere. Washington has a dirty little secret. While most of its electricity comes from hydropower, 15 percent comes from coal. And a large portion of that comes from plant in Montana and Wyoming. Golden says, the EPA rule will encourage the states to find cleaner sources of power to sell to the coastal states.

GOLDEN: States like Montana and Wyoming have a lot of coal. But they also have a lot of wind and a lot of sun. And, you know, most of the customers are in the coastal states. And the coastal states want carbon-free power. And, you know, if you're in the power selling business, the customers always right.

AHEARN: But wind and sun aren't always reliable. And the transition off coal won't happen overnight, say Kimberly Harris. She's the CEO of Puget Sound Energy, the largest investor-owned utility in Washington state. Her company gets 30 percent of its power from coal. More than half of it comes from out of state.

KIMBERLY HARRIS: You cannot just shut down coal units and expect for the grid to continue to operate. Any type of a retirement has to be transitional because we have significant decisions to make as a region, not just state-by-state. But this really needs to be a regional approach.

AHEARN: Washington's governor has been pushing his state to join regional carbon cap-and-trade systems, like the one already in place in California. But he hasn't been able to get the necessary legislation passed. The new EPA rules will lead to reduced coal-fired power in the U.S. But the rules don't apply to coal that is exported and buried elsewhere. That's an issue for Washington state. It's currently reviewing proposals to build two coal export terminals to serve the large market in Asia. As coal becomes more heavily regulated and less fashionable in the U.S., coal companies are more eager to ship it elsewhere, despite the fact that the emissions from burning the coal in Asia will impact the climate globally. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Ahearn in Seattle.

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