Natural gas utilities move against new state clean air law

By Nicholas K. Geranios, Associated Press

Several large natural gas utilities in Washington state are taking legal action against the state Department of Ecology over its recently created clean air rule that seeks to combat climate change.


SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Several large natural gas utilities in Washington state are taking legal action against the state Department of Ecology over its recently created clean air rule that seeks to combat climate change.

Avista Corp., Cascade Natural Gas Corp., NW Natural and Puget Sound Energy jointly challenged the rule Tuesday in federal court in Spokane. They also plan to file a challenge in Thurston County Superior Court.

The utilities contend that reducing greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed, but on a nationwide level. They are asking the court to invalidate the rule.

"We're confident in our authority under the state's Clean Air Act that we can regulate carbon pollution and are continuing our work," said Camille St. Onge, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Department in Olympia.

The rule, created earlier this month, requires large industrial emitters to gradually reduce carbon emissions over time. The change will cover power plants, oil refineries, fuel distributors, pulp and paper mills and other industries.

Critics contend it will hurt families, as costs are passed on to consumers; limit the state in attracting and retaining businesses; and hamper the ability of energy-intensive businesses to compete globally.

Supporters say limiting heat-trapping gases is needed to protect human health and the environment. They say the state faces severe economic and environmental disruption from rising sea levels, increased risks of drought and wildfire and other effects of climate change.

Gov. Jay Inslee sought the rule last year after failing to gain legislative support for a more ambitious plan to charge polluters a fee, similar to California's cap-and-trade program. A coalition of Northeast states also has a cap-and-trade program that applies to power plants.

Under the rule, large carbon polluters will be required to reduce carbon emissions by an average of 1.7 percent annually.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Inslee, a Democrat, for taking executive action on the issue, saying lawmakers should set such policy.

Using worst-case scenarios, the state estimated that by 2020 electricity prices would go up by $16 a year and gas prices would increase by 1 cent because of the rule.

Two dozen businesses likely will to be covered when the rule takes effect in October 2017. They include all five oil refineries in the state, several Puget Sound Energy facilities, including those in Longview, Goldendale and Sumas, the Grays Harbor Energy Center in Elma, Frederickson Power facility in Tacoma and Spokane's Waste to Energy facility.

In their legal filing, the utilities said the new rule will have the unintended consequence of increasing carbon emissions while penalizing customers for using clean natural gas.

It will raise net carbon emissions regionally from the electric power sector by discouraging the use of natural gas facilities in Washington in favor of out-of-state coal plants and less efficient out-of-state natural gas plants, they contend.

The rule will increase home heating costs, greenhouse gas emissions and particulate pollution from less efficient sources of energy, they contend.

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