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Washington state's push to reduce emissions

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Colin Murphy is with the Low Carbon Fuel Policy Research Group at UC Davis. The audio story and transcript currently does not reflect the organization's full title.]

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Several states across the country have new laws on the books this year to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is warming the planet. Washington State is among them. New laws change how big businesses use energy and how people fuel up their cars and trucks. John Ryan from member station KUOW in Seattle begins this two-part story.

JOHN RYAN, BYLINE: A new cap on carbon emissions from big polluters is the centerpiece of Washington Governor Jay Inslee's push to tackle pollution that causes climate change. Inslee tooted his horn at a press conference in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JAY INSLEE: This is something we legitimately can crow about. We do have the best suite of policies to build clean energy in our state in the United States.

RYAN: The carbon cap has been in the works for about a decade. During that time, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. That's despite Inslee's promises and a state law that required emissions to shrink below their 1990 levels by the year 2020. Washington missed that deadline, and now the state mandate is to get to net-zero pollution over the next 30 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

INSLEE: And now we can show them real results - not just promises of action.

RYAN: Now, big polluters face a cap on their emissions. To keep polluting, businesses can buy a limited number of allowances - basically, pollution permits. Those permits will go on auction starting this month. Proceeds will go to reduce pollution and help hard-hit communities prepare for everything from heat waves to floods.

JESSICA SPIEGEL: The carbon cap is definitely a major system change for the economy in Washington.

RYAN: Jessica Spiegel represents oil companies like Chevron and Phillips 66 with the Western States Petroleum Association. Oil refineries won't have to make immediate pollution reductions like other sectors, due to fears they might take their business elsewhere. And they get their pollution permits, worth millions of dollars, for free. Even so, Spiegel says they'll be hard-pressed to cut pollution as fast as the state wants them to.

SPIEGEL: How do we get there so fast? We need to be building new things right now.

RYAN: The BP refinery north of Bellingham is the second-biggest source of carbon pollution in the state. Refinery manager Eric Zimpfer says it's making more biodiesel and taking other steps to cut emissions faster than the state mandate.

ERIC ZIMPFER: We're going to be a net-zero company across our operations. This is something the world needs to move to.

RYAN: A dozen eastern states have a cap on carbon emissions from power plants. But so far, only the West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington have started to cap pollution from industry more broadly. For NPR News, I'm John Ryan in Seattle.

SHAPIRO: This new carbon cap isn't Washington's only effort to cut emissions. This year, the state became the latest to adopt a low-carbon fuel standard. Bellamy Pailthorp with member station KNKX reports it's a system of fees on transportation fuel producers and credits for low-carbon alternatives.

(SOUNDBITE OF PUMP RUNNING)

BELLAMY PAILTHORP, BYLINE: Tom Yamada drags a big hose from his bright orange tanker truck to a grease trap out back of a popular Hawaiian taco restaurant in Seattle.

TOM YAMADA: And it's like a big straw, so we're going to vacuum up this oil.

PAILTHORP: He works for Mahoney Environmental, which recycles used cooking oil. Yamada says it's a dirty job, but he takes pride in helping to make cleaner fuels.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUCKING NOISE)

YAMADA: There that goes. That was about 150 gallons. So it took maybe 2 minutes?

PAILTHORP: Yamada collects cooking oil from all around western Washington. That oil then gets purified and pretreated in Seattle before it goes overseas, where it's processed into renewable diesel. The fuel isn't available in Washington yet - only abroad and in California and Oregon.

LEAH MISSIK: They're actually able to get a lot higher price for renewable diesel in states that have a clean fuel standard.

PAILTHORP: That's Leah Missik with Climate Solutions, a nonprofit that fought hard to get this fuel policy for Washington. The fees support low-carbon transportation alternatives like biofuels, but also electrification. Missik says transit agencies that provide vehicle chargers, for example, can get paid for every kilowatt-hour used.

MISSIK: That can then be used by the transit agency to purchase more electric buses and convert their diesel fleet or install charging for more electric buses at their depots.

PAILTHORP: In California, at times, those fees have largely offset the cost of the electricity used for some transit agencies, says Colin Murphy. He's with the Carbon Fuel Policy Research Group at UC Davis. He thinks Washington's new policy will add up to 10 cents a gallon to fuel prices over the next five years, but he says the benefits far outweigh the costs.

COLIN MURPHY: It's - do we want to pay for lower-carbon fuels and energy, or do we want to keep rebuilding, you know, rural communities when they burn down due to wildfires and rebuilding coastal communities when they flood due to sea level rise?

PAILTHORP: With Washington's policy now in effect, it joins the entire West Coast and British Columbia, Canada, with a fuel standard. Other states, including New York, New Mexico and Minnesota, have also tried to get one, but so far have hit roadblocks.

For NPR News, I'm Bellamy Pailthorp in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ryan
Year started with KUOW: 2009
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