State ecology department begins to make rules for capping carbon emissions. Will benefits justify costs?

The state Department of Ecology has announced the beginning of an extended process to regulate carbon emissions. 

…the Washington Department of Ecology formally began writing a rule that would require the state’s largest polluters to reduce their greenhouse gases. Ecology is considering businesses and organizations that are responsible for producing 100,000 metric tons or more of greenhouse gases be covered under the rule. The types of businesses include:

  • Natural gas distributors
  • Petroleum fuel producers
  • Factories
  • Power plants
  • Waste facilities
  • Metal manufacturers

Here’s the list of companies Ecology thinks will be affected. 

The department is responding to Gov. Jay Inslee’s July directive (we wrote about it here). The governor statement at the time said,

…Washingtonians have too much at stake to wait any longer for legislative action…

The regulatory cap on carbon emissions would force a significant reduction in air pollution and will be the centerpiece of Inslee’s strategy to make sure the state meets its statutory emission limits set by the Legislature in 2008.

The Seattle Times reported in July,

The scope of the forthcoming emissions rules was not clear, as Inslee asked Ecology Director Maia Bellon to launch a yearlong rule-making process. The governor’s office said that process will be “open and transparent” and include public input.

Critics questioned whether the governor had the authority to adopt regulatory caps and noted the lack of legislative support for his proposed cap-and-trade policies. Supporters cheered the governor’s decision to bypass lawmakers. As the process begins this week, the divide remains sharply defined. The AP reports

Unlike legislation Inslee sought earlier this year, this proposal won’t charge emitters for carbon pollution. Inslee had pitched his plan as a way to raise more than $1 billion a year for schools and other programs. His proposal was strongly opposed in the Republican-controlled Senate; it also never came up for a floor vote in the Democrat-controlled House.

“The governor is essentially doubling down on a war on manufacturing in Washington state,” said State Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who added that it would create an unfair playing field between companies in Washington and those overseas or in other states that would have not to face such regulations…

KC Golden, a senior policy adviser with Climate Solutions, applauded Inslee for putting the force of law behind a commitment to address climate change.

The proposed regulations will be the subject of extended hearings. The department’s release says,

Over the next year Ecology will hold a series of public meetings and hearings to gather input from everyone interested in participating. A schedule of meetings and other ways to participate will be updated on Ecology’s website over the next several weeks.

“We’re at the beginning stages and want to craft the rule together with industry, tribes, environmental groups and the public to ensure clean air in Washington,” [Ecology director Maia] Bellon said.

In our research report we wrote,

Many state-level regulations reflect Washingtonians’ commitment to protecting human health and the natural environment. However, the costs of regulatory compliance have a direct impact on investment and job creation.


In terms of regulatory content, Washington regulations routinely exceed the minimums required by federal law. For example, the state chose to require a global environmental impact statement, rather than a project-specific analysis, for proposed coal export facilities in 2014. Policies to address climate change and water quality are frequently cited by employers as areas of uncertainty that can affect long-range planning… While regulations ultimately reflect Washingtonians’ policy preferences, they should be regularly reviewed to see if, for example, the benefits justify the added costs of compliance.  

The proposed climate rules should be closely monitored to see if they meet reasonable cost-benefit standards.