By Camille St. Onge, Communications Manager
Gov. Jay Inslee recently directed the Department of Ecology to develop a rule to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in Washington state to limit the impacts of climate change.
Climate change is likely the defining environmental issue of our time. Reducing greenhouse gas pollution is vital to protect our air, water, food sources, and economy.
Protecting Washington from the effects of a rising global temperature is not a new endeavor for the state. In 2008, our Legislature required us to reduce our greenhouse gases significantly by 2050 to ensure we’re doing our part to address climate change.
Fast forward to 2015 and we’re still focused on reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
As directed by the governor, Ecology plans to begin rulemaking to limit greenhouse gas pollution this fall and adopt the rule next year. And, we also are considering proposed legislation to the Legislature in 2016 to strengthen Washington’s greenhouse gas limits to better reflect current science.
Our changing climate
Today we know a lot more than we did in 2008. We are experiencing the effects of a changing climate, both globally and here in the Pacific Northwest. Climate change is no longer a far off threat that we should prepare for; we are responding now. Sea level is rising on most of Washington’s coast, and climate extremes like floods, droughts, fires and landslides are already affecting Washington’s economy and environment. Plus, this year Ecology’s scientists have observed the warmest temperatures in Puget Sound in their 25 years of record keeping.
The Climate Impacts Groupour state’s official source for climate science, is an internationally recognized research group that is part of the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. A report released by the Climate Impacts Group in December 2013 affirms the effects Washington is experiencing and what to expect in the future.
There has been a downward trend in greenhouse gas pollution since 2008, but, generally, Washington’s greenhouse gas pollution has continued to grow along with our population.
Greenhouse gases are substances that contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. There are six internationally-recognized greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride. The chart above shows the sources of Washington’s greenhouse gases. The transportation category includes pollution from cars, trucks, trains, air travel, and marine vessels.
Nationally, electrical generation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases. Because Washington uses hydropower for much of its electricity, the electricity sector is less significant in Washington. The transportation sector is our most significant contributor of greenhouse gases.
Washington’s greenhouse gas generation has been slowly declining in recent years, except for a more sudden dip in 2000-2002 due to changes in our state’s aluminum industry.
Reducing greenhouse gas pollution
Ecology has focused on a variety of ways to reduce greenhouse gases. Some, like the zero emission vehicle program and a clean fuel standard did not have legislative support and have not been implemented. Others have been adopted, like Washington’s Clean Car Law, our greenhouse gas reporting program and emission performance standards for refineries. Most recently, the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean power plan rule was adopted and it will reduce greenhouse gas pollution from power plants in Washington and across the U.S.
Additional strategies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution are needed to reduce further risk to Washington’s air, water and food. Gov. Inslee’s directive to develop a rule that reduces greenhouse gas pollution is an opportunity to find solutions. Our first statutory reduction target is not far off, 2020, and our climate continues to change.