A climate pact signed last week by the three West Coast states and British Columbia could be an important catalyst for reducing greenhouse gases — or just a feel-good exercise that goes the way of so many other agreements.
For now, it gets the benefit of the doubt.
What the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy has in its favor is geographic and economic heft: It covers a region of 53 million people with an economy of $2.8 trillion — equivalent to the fifth-largest economy in the world. If Washington, Oregon, California and B.C. can agree on some strategies, that could have far-reaching effects, perhaps leading to adoption nationwide.
Around the edges, the pact could lead to promoting wider use of zero- or low-emission vehicles, standardizing energy-efficiency rules for appliances, streamlining the permitting process for solar and wind projects, better integrating the electric power grid and pushing for more research on ocean acidification.
But that’s the low-hanging fruit. The more contentious issues surround how to limit carbon emissions — which scientists say is the prime culprit leading to climate change and rising seas.
British Columbia and California have tackled the problem head-on, with a carbon pollution tax and a cap-and-trade program, respectively. (Cap and trade requires those business and utilities whose emissions exceed standards to buy rights from those that emit less.)
Many lawmakers in Washington and Oregon have resisted those approaches to emission reduction, citing costs to businesses and consumers. Gov. Jay Inslee, who favors cap-and-trade, has convened a bipartisan group of state lawmakers to come up with measures to fight climate change. But there’s concern that the group’s efforts have been undercut by Inslee signing on to the West Coast pact.
At the very least, the pact has symbolic leadership value, showing a united front by the coastal region that stands to be hit hard by rising seas. Agreeing on the problem and the direction to take is the first step toward solutions.