Puget Sound Energy wants the Trump administration to keep regulating greenhouse-gas emissions even after the repeal of the federal Clean Power Plan.
But any new effort should be more narrowly focused and offer states more time to come into compliance, according to a white paper released by a coalition formed by PSE and a dozen other utilities.
The repeal of the federal Clean Power Plan was proposed this week by the Environmental Protection Agency. If it withstands legal challenges, the move would roll back one of President Barack Obama’s major efforts to combat climate change by reducing carbon emissions from power plants.
The PSE participation in the Coalition for Innovative Climate Solutions puts the Bellevue-based utility in the thick of the political battle over the future of federal regulation of greenhouse gases.
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Meanwhile, in Washington state, the utility is under pressure from environmental groups to quicken its transition away from coal-fired electricity, which currently supplies more than 30 percent of its power.
A six-page white paper released by the coalition calls for quick action to fashion a new rule, which the document says could help utilities fend off citizen lawsuits and also provide a framework for making long-term investments.
But the coalition wants the new rule to be based on what can be done to cut emissions at any one power plant, such as improving the efficiency of a coal unit. Their paper says the rule should not force an operator to cut back use of that plant and generate the lost power from renewable energy sources.
In a Wednesday letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget, a coalition representative, William Bumper, wrote that the white paper is not intended to result in minimal reductions in emissions, and that many coalition members are taking significant actions to combat greenhouse gases.
But Sierra Club staff in Washington state say the coalition proposal is a weak substitute for the Obama-era plan now proposed for repeal.
The Obama rule is supposed to result in a 32 percent decline in power-plant carbon emissions by 2030, a goal that many utilities already appear on track to meet. The coalition calls for a rollback by five years – to 2035 – of the deadline for states to come into compliance for any new plan.
“They are empowering a Trump agenda to undermine the Obama rule, and I don’t think their customers are going to be very happy about that,” said Doug Howell, a Sierra Club staffer with the Beyond Coal Campaign.
In an interview with The Seattle Times, Puget Sound Energy spokesman Grant Ringel said the main thrust of the coalition was to get a replacement rule as quickly as possible. But he balked at endorsing the utility coalition’s call for moving back the compliance deadline from 2030 to 2035.
“We’re not advocating any specific time frame for compliance. That would be really putting the cart before the horse,” said Ringel.
Regardless of what happens at the federal level, Ringel said, PSE will not slow down the utility’s move away from coal, which includes shutting down two units of a four-unit coal power complex in Montana by 2022. PSE, in a settlement announced last month, laid out the utility’s financial blueprint that could clear the way for shutting down the other two Montana units.
In Washington state, PSE has faced a starkly different political climate on greenhouse gas regulation.
The Trump administration proposal to repeal the Obama administration’s clean-air rule was denounced by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat who said it rejects science and takes the nation in the wrong direction.
Under the Inslee administration, Washington is part of a coalition of 14 states that, along with Puerto Rico, have committed to reaching the goals set out in the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions to limit global warming to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.