Inslee says cap would hit largest carbon sources, including gas distributors

Jay Inslee
Jay Inslee AP file, 2012

Not wanting to swallow a “poison pill” provision in the Legislature’s transportation package helped keep Gov. Jay Inslee from creating a clean-fuel standard targeting the tailpipes that are Washington’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

But Inslee told The News Tribune editorial board Wednesday that the regulations he is now pursuing would cover distributors of vehicle fuel.

“Basically what this is about is breaking the monopoly and the stranglehold on Washingtonians of the oil and gas industry,” the Democratic governor said.

Inslee ordered his Department of Ecology Tuesday to develop a cap on emissions, and he said Wednesday it would set limits on the state’s largest emitters.

Details remain unclear, including how the plan would affect energy prices.

Inslee said the plan need not threaten the fossil fuels industry, which he said can adapt by selling biofuels, electric batteries and other alternative power for vehicles.

In his remarks Wednesday, Inslee took the Legislature to task for doing “zero, nada, zilch” since he took office to answer his pleas for action on climate change.

Then again, he mused later in the same interview, lawmakers did do one thing: They added nearly 12 cents to the price of a gallon of gas – which could be seen as a signal to drivers to buy vehicles that spew less carbon dioxide.

“If you want to look at it through outside-of-the-box thinking ... we kind of have added a price on carbon pollution in our transportation package,” Inslee said.

He compared the gas-tax increase to a carbon tax proposed in a citizen initiative now being circulated for signatures. But he contended those kind of measures aren’t enough to meet state targets to cut emissions by more than half from current levels by mid-century.

Inslee prefers imposing a cap by rule and preferably going farther eventually by changing the law – either by citizen initiative or in the Legislature – to add a charge on emitters that would raise revenue for state government.

Advocates for the Carbon Washington initiative, which would create a British Columbia-style carbon tax, say that either a cap or a tax could be effective. Both they and Inslee have arguments for why their approach can win over public opinion.

As for the gas tax, Carbon Washington co-director Kyle Murphy said the 11.9-cent increase doesn’t cost enough or cover enough of the economy to yield serious reductions in emissions.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, has similar doubts that the higher gas tax will be enough to change consumers’ behavior.

“The fluctuation of gas prices has been so great that I think most people won’t even notice it,” said King, one of the authors of the gas-tax package to pay for highway projects.