Inslee's cap-and-trade plan makes polluters pay

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SEATTLE (AP) - Gov. Jay Inslee's sweeping proposal to rein in greenhouse gases with a charge on polluters was heard Tuesday in the House Environment Committee. The plan would cap the overall amount of carbon emissions in the state and require major polluters to pay for each metric ton of carbon released.

The Democrat's plan, which must be approved by the Legislature, faces resistance from some businesses and Republicans, who control the Senate.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, is sponsoring House Bill 1314, which has three dozen co-sponsors, though all are Democrats.

Q: Why is the governor proposing it?

A: Inslee says polluters should pay for the emissions they release into the atmosphere and his plan will raise $1 billion in its first year for transportation, education and other needs. The governor says the state has a moral obligation to take action on climate change and that his plan will help the state meet a 2008 mandate to reduce greenhouse gases linked to global warming.

Q: Who supports it and why?

A: Environmental groups, many Democratic leaders and others say the plan will cut pollution and improve public health and the environment. They say polluters should be held accountable, and the program will ultimately encourage more energy efficiencies and clean-energy innovations.

Q: Who opposes it and why?

A: The Western States Petroleum Association, Association of Washington Business and others recently formed a group, the Washington Climate Collaborative, to urge other alternatives. The group says Inslee's plan will force consumers to pay more for gas, energy and food. Republican lawmakers say the state is already a low-carbon-producing state and they support private market innovations.

Q: How does cap and trade work?

A: The program sets an overall state limit on carbon dioxide and other emissions and requires major polluters to buy allowances, or permits, for each metric ton released. Polluters can buy, sell or hold excess allowances. The cap would ratchet down over time, so fewer allowances are issued and the price for pollution rises. Companies can decide to pay for their pollution or find that there's more financial incentive for them to reduce greenhouse games emissions by becoming more energy efficient, for example, or finding newer technologies to reduce pollution.

Q: Who would have to pay and how much?

A: The program would apply to major facilities that release more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon a year, such as power plants, oil refineries, steel mills and food processors. Examples include the Tesoro Refinery in Anacortes, Ash Grove Cement plant in Seattle, Boeing's commercial airplanes factory in Everett, ConAgra Foods Lamb Weston in Pasco and Richland, and the River Road power plant in Vancouver.

Biomass plants, waste facilities, landfills, and federal and tribal entities are exempt. But the University of Washington and Washington State University would be included because they release more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon a year.

Q: How much would polluters have to pay?

A: The actual price would be set at auction, with a minimum of about $12 a metric ton and no lid on how high prices could go. At $12 a ton, for example, facilities that release 100,000 metric tons of carbon a year would have to pay about $1.2 million.

Q: Who else has a cap-and-trade program?

A: Washington lawmakers failed to pass a cap-and-trade program in 2009 when it was pushed by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire. California rolled out a program nearly three years ago. A coalition of Northeast states has a program that applies to power plants. Europe launched a program in 2005.

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