The Northwest is falling behind on pollution
June 12th - The Northwest is known as the nation’s beacon of sustainable living. Consumers here demand a different level of environmental focus for our companies. The term Ecotopia is thrown around (along with some less savory terms). Despite this sterling reputation we are being left in the dust by a host of other states when it comes to meeting the EPA’s pollution targets.
Last week, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) put out a report on the progress states are making on the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan. States’ reactions to the rules have been mixed. 12 states have already signed a lawsuit suing the EPA (despite the fact that many are already on track to comply). Others are playing the waiting game, content to draw up plans but not fully engage until legal action is complete.
Along with 12 other states, both Oregon and Washington are fully cooperating. Yet despite our outwardly enthusiastic attitudes, the Northwest is still under the targeted emissions reductions goals for 2020 and behind 14 other states in the nation. While not as disappointing as say Wyoming or Alabama, UCS says Oregon still needs to reduce emissions 28% before 2020, Washington 12%. Compare that with state’s like California (already at 186% of EPA’s goals) and almost the entire North East, we are falling rapidly behind.
Washington and Oregon have previously set their own emission goals with some encouragingly ambitious targets (See Oregon’s and Washington’s). Governor Inslee in Washington has been called the greenest state executive in the country. In Oregon, Governor Kate Brown has been predicted to be even stronger on the environment than her coal-fighting predecessor.
So what’s the outlier here? Do Californians and New Hampshirites care more about clean air than we do?
The answer in short, they have a price on pollution. California has enjoyed heavily publicized success with their emissions trading program. The program has raised billions of dollars for efficiency, clean energy and environmental justice projects, garnering international partners. Since 2003, the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has quietly but steadily lowered emissions for the entire region’s power system.
Both our state's have pollution pricing bills before the legislature this year. In Oregon, HB 3470 rose to the top of several other pricing options and has been steadily passing through the chambers of Salem. Likewise, Washington’s Pollution Accountability Act was introduced this session and would hold the state’s largest polluters liable for what they emit.
Unfortunately both bills have hit tremendous roadblocks. In Washington, opponent like Whatcom County’s Doug Ericksen, have been fighting tooth and nail to kill the bill. Ericksen went so far as to call it a “tax on freedom.” (his rhetoric could have something to do with the thousands he took in fossil fuel money last year) It has gone through tremendous changes to try and give concessions to those who oppose it but still hasn’t been included in budgeting.
Oregon has been more encouraging. HB 3470 has been steadily passing through the house, bolstered by a host of cities that have passed resolutions in support. But recently the battle over a transportation package has pulled everything into its wake, and the legislature is at a stand still until its passed.
Both Oregon and Washington have records of being strong environmental leaders. Polling shows a majority of folks in our region want a price on pollution and understand why it’s important. If we want to keep our reputation, we need to do more.
Northeast state’s like Maryland might be better known for “Crab Cakes and Football” but they are running up the score on us when it comes to curbing emissions.
A price on pollution is our ticket to getting back in the game.
Nick Abraham - editor and lead contributor Oil Check Northwest