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News / Clark County News

Washington’s two key climate standards are now in effect

Initiatives provide incentives to businesses to operate more cleanly

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 5, 2023, 6:05am

As the new year begins, so do Washington’s two key climate strategies.

“I do believe there are times in life when we should be humble, but I do believe we should crow about this,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at a press conference Wednesday.

The Climate Commitment Act and Clean Fuel Standard, which took effect on Jan. 1, are both market-based, meaning the government provides incentives to businesses that make their operations cleaner. In doing so, state officials say the economy will be supported while reducing dependence on carbon-rich fuels like gasoline and diesel.

Both climate strategies are designed to meet Washington’s carbon emission reduction timeline, which requires nixing 45 percent of emissions by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Under the Clean Fuel Standard, a model already active in California and Oregon, fuel suppliers would be required to gradually reduce fuels’ carbon intensity to a state-imposed standard by 2034. Suppliers can do this by producing or mixing low-carbon biofuels with fuel they sell, as well as improving production in general, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson said this standard would remove 4.3 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year by 2038 in the transportation sector, the state’s major source of pollution.

Cleaner fuels with carbon intensities that fall below the state’s standard will gain credits that can be kept or sold to fuel producers, whereas those with greater levels of carbon will fall into a deficit. The state’s carbon intensity threshold will increase over time.

Opponents of the Clean Fuel Standard argue it will significantly increase the cost of a gallon of gas, but state officials maintain the law will increase prices by “only a couple of pennies.”

Similarly, the Climate Commitment Act is anticipated to improve air quality in the state’s most polluted areas by implementing a “cap and invest” program. Large polluters, those emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon annually, are required to buy allowances for each ton of carbon they create while transitioning to using cleaner energy.

Leading up to 2050, the greenhouse gas cap will steadily lower and the pool of allowances will decrease. With this progression, businesses are pushed to comply with the program’s baseline, guaranteeing emission reductions are unfolding at the pace required to meet Washington’s climate goals.

The Department of Ecology will hold quarterly auctions where involved entities can seek allowances. Prices are based on supply from the cap and demand from the involved entities. Proceeds will be invested in projects to mitigate the state’s climate issues.

However, moving forward, there will need to be greater focus on the state’s capacity for future electricity consumption, said Michael Furze, assistant director at the Department of Commerce. Washington’s current power grid won’t be able to meet future demands, which requires the state to obtain permits for more renewable energy generation and manufacturing.

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Columbian staff writer