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Skeptical of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions, Republican legislators on Wednesday rolled out a slate of clean-energy bills they argued would take a less heavy-handed approach.
The central GOP proposal, by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would give incentives to electric utilities for investing in carbon-reduction projects, such as installing electric-vehicle chargers or helping convert state ferries to run on natural gas instead of diesel fuel. Other bills would offer tax breaks for development of nuclear power and for businesses that buy alternative-fuel vehicles.
Ericksen’s legislation, Senate Bill 5735, would alter Initiative 937, the voter-approved clean-energy initiative from 2006 that requires utilities to buy a portion of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar, but excluding hydroelectricity.
Some utilities have complained I-937 has forced them to buy pricey wind power – or equivalent credits – that they don’t need, with much of the money flowing out of the state.
Ericksen’s bill seeks to allow utilities to meet their I-937 mandates by investing in any carbon-reduction project in the state.
In some cases, that could credit utilities for projects they’ve already planned, such as Puget Sound Energy’s proposed $275 million natural-gas plant in Tacoma.
At a news conference outlining their plans, Republicans took a different tone than Inslee, who has talked about climate change as a dire threat to the state and world, and who has proposed an aggressive cap-and-trade system charging major polluters, such as oil refineries and aluminum smelters, for their carbon emissions.
Republicans characterized their proposals in a news release as a “carrots, not sticks” approach not designed to hit any particular target for cutting greenhouse gases.
“What we’re working on today … are mechanisms to have a cleaner energy future in Washington state, create jobs here in Washington state, and, as a byproduct, create less carbon in the process,” Ericksen said at the news conference.
Ericksen, who chairs the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee, has been a chief critic of Inslee’s climate proposals, including the cap-and-trade plan, as well as a possible forthcoming executive order requiring reduced carbon pollution from cars.
Ericksen said the bills outlined by Republicans are not meant to rule out Inslee’s proposals, and said his committee will consider the governor’s cap-and-trade bill if it passes out of the Democratic controlled state House. The House Environment Committee is expected to vote on the bill next week.
State Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, who has co-sponsored the Senate version of Inslee’s cap-and-trade bill, joined the Wednesday news conference and praised Ericksen for offering new ideas.
“We must reduce our carbon output,” Chase said. “We know and accept that everything must be on the table.”
Ericksen said the proposals released Wednesday are not the only clean-energy or climate bills the Senate will consider.
Leaders of a leading environmental group reacted with suspicion to the Senate proposals, which they said don’t take seriously meeting the carbon-reduction targets passed in a 2008 state law.
Kerry McHugh, spokeswoman for the Washington Environmental Council, said the bills don’t match the scope of Inslee’s cap-and-trade and clean-fuels proposals “both in terms of economic growth and decreasing our global-warming pollution.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor has not yet studied the proposals.
But he said it was “a good thing” to hear Republican senators talking more about reducing carbon emissions.
Bob Mack, deputy director of public affairs for Tacoma Public Utilities, said while the utility has not taken a formal position on Ericksen’s idea of tweaking I-937, “It’s a concept we’d like to consider. It may be an efficient way of reducing carbon emissions and complying with the act.”
The utility, which includes Tacoma Power, has been critical of I-937’s mandates. In recent testimony to a legislative committee, the utility estimated the measure will cost its ratepayers an extra $15 million to $30 million a year by 2020.
At Inslee’s direction, the state Department of Ecology on Wednesday released a preliminary draft of a low-carbon fuel standard, similar to one in California.
It would require fuel producers to cut carbon emissions from their products by 10 percent over a decade. They could do that by developing cleaner-burning fuels, mixing gasoline with alternative fuels such as biodiesel, or by buying credits from other companies. The goal is to reduce carbon emissions from driving, which accounts for about half the state’s total emissions.
A state analysis estimated that could raise gas prices by 2 cents in 2020 and 10 cents by 2026.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
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