Washington State Approves Bill to Slash Greenhouse Emissions

March 19, 2008

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire approved a climate change bill on March 13 that will reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions to half of its 1990 emission levels by 2050. The bill also includes interim limits of returning to 1990 emission levels by 2020 and reducing emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2035. The bill, House Bill 2815, leaves most of the details to the state's Department of Ecology, which has until December 1 to create a greenhouse gas reduction plan that achieves the bill's emissions targets. The department also has to develop a system for monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill does help out the Department of Ecology with regard to vehicle emissions by setting benchmarks for reducing vehicle miles traveled within the state. The benchmarks lower the annual per capita vehicle miles by 18% by 2020, 30% by 2035, and 50% by 2050. Again, the department has until December 1 to figure out how to meet those benchmarks. The bill also acknowledges Washington's current commitment to the Western Climate Initiative, which has set a regional goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 15% below 2005 levels by 2020, and the bill aims to take advantage of that initiative through participation in its regional market-based mechanism to reduce emissions. The initiative is currently planning to create a market-based mechanism, such as a cap-and-trade system, by August.

The bill acknowledges an important benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions: the likelihood of creating new "green" jobs in fields such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. The state estimates that it had 8,400 such "green economy" jobs in 2004, and the bill encourages the growth in that sector through a new green economy jobs growth initiative. The new initiative aims to expand the green economy sector to 25,000 jobs by 2020 through targeted financial incentives and comprehensive strategies to attract and expand industries and small businesses serving this sector. It will also include such measures as job training and curriculum development. The state has estimated that several of the recommended strategies for responding to climate change will have a net benefit to the state's economy of nearly $1 billion by 2020. See the governor's press release and the full text of the bill.