Washington and seven other Western states and Canadian provinces Wednesday staked out a regional goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, partly by creating a trading block for pollution credits and requiring less-polluting vehicles.
The agreement targets a 15 percent reduction in the production of planet-warming gases, compared with 2005 levels, over the next 13 years.
Washington has a more ambitious goal of reducing levels of the gases to 1990 levels by 2020. A wide-ranging panel appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to recommend early next year how to meet that goal and go on to slash emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels by midcentury.
The goal announced Wednesday is for Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington and the provinces of British Columbia and Manitoba. Several other states are observing and could join in the future.
The agreement does not require any states or provinces to do anything they were not already committed to, said Janice Adair of the Washington Ecology Department, who is the state’s representative on the Western Climate Initiative.
However, over the next year, the states and provinces will try to work out the details of a “cap and trade” program.
That would systematically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases allowed to be produced in the states that sign on. Businesses or others that are able to reduce their emissions more than required would be rewarded because they could sell their rights to emit to others who have trouble meeting their goals.
The idea is to provide powerful economic incentives to do the right thing — but working out the details promises to be quite difficult.
“How we do all that and come to the table — eight very different (states and provinces) — and try to negotiate the best deal we can, and not have anyone go away feeling they got rolled, is going to be very difficult,” Adair said.
Several environmental groups welcomed the goal, which Sierra Club spokesman Rob Smith said was “a good first step, but it’s a modest one compared to all that needs to be done.”
Added Smith: “Hopefully this will lead to some pressure for Congress to take this step on a national level.”
Grant Nelson of the Association of Washington Business has been monitoring the state’s efforts.
“We need to move forward very cautiously, and make sure we don’t put our state at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
Already, though, the states are promising different levels of reductions. Arizona and New Mexico are promising reductions over their 2000 emissions, while Washington and California used 1990 as a base year, promising 15 percent reductions. Oregon used 1990 as a base year and promised a 10 percent cut by 2020.
Governors of the states involved, except Utah, created the Western Climate Initiative in February, pledging to work together to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Utah, British Columbia and Manitoba subsequently joined the group, and a joint announcement by the eight states and provinces Wednesday said all agreed to the regional goal.
“Our collective commitment will build a successful regional system to be linked with other regional efforts across the nation and eventually the world,” California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a prepared statement released with the announcement.
Each state and province will take steps on its own, but collectively they are committed to design a market-based system such as the cap-and-trade program planned by California.
Steps being taken by individual states include mandating the use of renewable energy sources, imposing performance standards on new power plants and buying alternative-fuel vehicles.