Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pacific coast states, British Columbia agree on climate change cooperation

The three mainland Pacific coast states and the Canadian province of British Columbia have agreed on a framework for cooperative efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

The deal, which was signed Monday in San Francisco, is not binding and does not commit California, Oregon, Washington, or British Columbia to spend any public money in attempts to limit emissions of pollutants that warm the atmosphere.

Labeled the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, the agreement covers three policy priorities: leading the U.S. and international responses to climate change, transition the signatory states and B.C. to transportation systems that rely on cleaner forms of energy, and invest in renewable energy infrastructure.

"California isn't waiting for the rest of the world before it takes action on climate change,” the Golden State's governor, Edmund G. Brown, said. “Today, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are all joining together to reduce greenhouse gases.”

The particular steps the parties agreed to undertake are wide-ranging. For example, the first policy commitment is to "account for the costs of carbon pollution in each jurisdiction." The agreement says that Oregon will continue its effort to impose a price on carbon emissions, while Washington will "set binding limits on carbon emissions and deploy market mechanisms to meet those limits." Thus, the language seems to indicate that Oregon will begin to collect a carbon tax, while Washington will install a cap-and-trade system of greenhouse gas regulation, as California has done.

California and British Columbia agreed to continue their existing programs aimed at forcing polluters to internalize the social costs of carbon pollution.

The agreement also contemplates that the parties will link their carbon emission pricing programs: "Where possible, California, British Columbia, Oregon and Washington will link programs for consistency and predictability and to expand opportunities to grow the region's low-carbon economy."

Brown, Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, and British Columbia premier Christy Clark also agreed to "[h]armonize 2050 targets for greenhouse gas reductions."

Washington already has GHG emission targets for the years 2035 and 2050. The 2008 statute that set them does not include specific programs to be used in the Evergreen State as tools for reaching the targets.

The agreement goes on to include a commitment of each state and province to implement low-carbon fuel standards, expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, and build high-speed rail systems. The parties also committed to a consistent system of appliance energy standards and integrate electricity distribution grids.

The PCACE follows an earlier attempt to coordinate policy responses to climate change among a greater number of western states and Canadian provinces. In 2007 the Western Climate Initiative, which eventually included California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, along with British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec, was formed. That cooperative effort has struggled to achieve consensus among its parties, with some dropping out in following years.

Together, the three U.S. states and the Canadian province that signed the PCACE have a population of 53 million people and an economy with a yearly GDP of $2.8 trillion.

Implementation of at least some of the specific steps called for in the agreement will require enactment of legislation by each of the parties' legislatures.

That will not likely pose much of a problem in California, where Democrats dominate both chambers of the state's General Assembly. However, in the Pacific Northwest there may be political obstacles to full execution of the agreement.

In Oregon, the state senate recently blocked a bill to extend the sunset date on a low-carbon fuel standard authorized in 2009. That program is set to expire in 2015, even though it has not yet been implemented. Two Democrats, including one who represents Portland, joined with the chamber's 14 Republicans to kill the measure that would have extended the sunset date.

In Washington, at least until another election affords the possibility of change, implementation bills could be held up in the state senate, which is controlled by a coalition of a few Democrats and the chamber's Republican members.

Kerry McHugh, a spokesperson for Washington Environmental Council, said that a bipartisan advisory panel required by the 2008 law that set the state's GHG emission targets is examining ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Inslee, along with four legislators, comprise the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup.