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Washington aims to limit carbon pollution from largest facilities

The BP Cherry Point Refinery, shown on Sept. 19, 2013, and Phillips 66 Ferndale would be among the first wave of facilities required to cut carbon emissions 5 percent every three years, under a state Department of Ecology proposal.
The BP Cherry Point Refinery, shown on Sept. 19, 2013, and Phillips 66 Ferndale would be among the first wave of facilities required to cut carbon emissions 5 percent every three years, under a state Department of Ecology proposal. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The state’s largest industrial emitters would be required to reduce carbon emissions by 5 percent every three years, under a proposed rule released Wednesday by state regulators.

The Department of Ecology’s proposed Clean Air Rule would initially apply to about two dozen manufacturing plants, refineries, power plants, natural gas distributors and others that release at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon a year. Many more facilities would likely be covered by the rule as that threshold is lowered over time.

Whatcom County refineries BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 Ferndale likely would be included in the first wave of facilities required to meet the reductions under the rule, as would Puget Sound Energy’s generating stations at Ferndale and Sumas.

Facilities would have different ways to comply with the rule, including buying credits from another carbon market system such as California’s or sponsoring projects that permanently reduce carbon pollution. For reducing their emissions by more than the required amount, facilities also could get credits, which they could use in the future or sell to others.

Ferndale’s Alcoa Intalco Works, which announced late in 2015 it would idle its smelting operations, was expected to be included in the second wave of facilities required to start reducing emissions.

The proposed rule’s starting thresholds are based on average emissions from 2012 to 2015. While the smelter is idled, it could get credits for emitting less than that threshold and apply them in the future if it restarts operations, according to Ecology.

State officials say the rule is needed to protect human health and the environment from climate change.

“It’s important that we act now to protect our water supplies, infrastructure and economy for future generations,” Ecology Director Maia Bellon said in a prepared statement.

Environmental and other groups applauded the draft rule as a crucial step in addressing climate change. But business groups and others have worried the efforts could hurt the state’s ability to attract and retain industries.

The draft rule comes after Gov. Jay Inslee failed last year to get legislation passed on his ambitious cap-and-trade plan that would have charged industrial facilities a fee for carbon emissions. In July, Inslee directed Ecology to limit carbon pollution using its existing authority under the state’s Clean Air Act.

Meanwhile, two competing efforts are trying to limit carbon pollution through statewide initiatives.

In one effort, backers of Initiative 732 have turned over 350,000 signatures on a proposal to tax carbon pollution at $25 a metric ton while lowering other state taxes. If verified, I-732 would go before the Legislature. If lawmakers don’t act, the measure would go on the 2016 ballot.

A coalition of environmental, labor and social justice groups, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, is also planning a statewide ballot initiative. That measure hasn’t been finalized, but it could impose new fees on carbon pollution and direct the money for clean-energy projects, low-income communities and other projects.

Officials say its Clean Air Rule would capture about 60 percent of the state’s overall carbon emissions, but it would not get the state all the way toward its mandate to limit emissions of greenhouse gases to the 1990 level.

The agency has scheduled four public hearings. It expects to finalize a rule by summer.

Bellingham Herald reporter Samantha Wohlfeil contributed to this story.

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