Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship
Green Sanctuary Program
Earthshare of Washington
April 19, 2007
http://www.esw.org/news/ - article no longer available online
The Legislature has passed a bill meant to curb climate change in the state, setting goals to reduce emissions over the next four decades and prohibiting utilities from entering into long-term contracts with coal-fired power plants that produce excessive greenhouse gases.
The Senate passed the measure Tuesday on a bipartisan 37-10 vote, after agreeing with changes made in the House. It now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who is expected to sign it.
"I think that we are leading the nation in a time of a bit of a vacuum at the national level on this issue," said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.
"We know it's real, the human impact on climate," Brown said. "We're going to step up and try to figure out in advance how we can make the important changes and equitably distribute the costs."
Greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane and other gases, essentially trap energy from the sun, which warms the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. Many scientists believe human activity that increases those gases is contributing to global warming.
But opponents quickly questioned the necessity of the measure, and the science behind global warming.
"To have Al Gore claim the science is in and everyone agrees is completely wrong," said Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland. "There is not consensus in the scientific community. Yeah, the Earth is warming. But to say man causes that, that's not a scientific fact."
Under the measure, any new coal-fired plant would have to be able to inject into the ground any emissions of greenhouse gases - primarily carbon dioxide - in excess of 1,100 pounds of gas per megawatt hour. And utilities would be prevented from entering into contracts with plants in other states that don't meet the same cap.
There are two exceptions: two coal plants that have already begun the process, one in Kalama, and another in Wallula. If they are unable to inject their excess emissions underground, they would be allowed to offset them, by buying another high-emitting power plant and closing it down so that there is no net gain of emissions.
"This is a big step forward to closing the door to pulverized coal, not just here in Washington state, but throughout the West," said Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle and co-sponsor of the bill. "We're entering a new era where new power plants are encouraged, by regulation, to build clean, not just cheap."
But others expressed concern about higher rates for customers.
"Unfortunately, the implication of this higher-priced power also goes onto the families when they pay their monthly utility bill," said Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
In February, Gregoire signed an executive order setting goals that the measure puts into state statute. The bill sets targets to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020; to 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035; and to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 - or 70 percent below what is currently predicted for 2050.