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Environmental panel’s opposition likely won’t slow WA carbon market linkage to CA-Quebec

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(The Center Square) – Opposition from the Environmental Justice Council to linking Washington state’s carbon market with the joint California-Quebec carbon market likely won’t stop the planned merger. The council is a statewide panel whose members were appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

In an Oct. 26 letter to Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson, the 16-member council claimed that combining the Washington market with the California-Quebec market would hurt communities where pollution causes the most harm and weaken existing air quality improvement programs.

“The information Ecology has provided to the Committee leaves a great deal of uncertainty whether linking Washington’s carbon market with California and Quebec, Canada will have a negative impact on overburdened communities and vulnerable populations (as defined in RCW 70A.02.010) and whether linking would diminish the ultimate success of Washington’s greenhouse gas reduction and air quality programs,” the letter states.

The letter goes on to say, “Furthermore, the potential benefits to impacted communities are based on models and projections that are speculative and uncertain. Ecology has not met a precautionary principle standard because it has not been able to guarantee linkage will not harm overburdened communities or analogous communities in the aggregate.”

Less than a week later, on Nov. 2, Watson gave her provisional go-ahead to pursue linking Washington’s cap-and-trade program with the California-Quebec market.

The Center Square reached out to the Governor’s Office about what the council, a body created by lawmakers in 2021 to “advise state agencies on incorporating environmental justice into agency activities,” had to say in its letter.

Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk took the council’s stance on linkage in stride.

“The governor’s statement about Ecology’s linkage decision explicitly reiterated our commitment to ensuring that linkage would benefit our overall climate efforts as well as strengthen protections for overburdened communities,” he said in an email, referencing Inslee’s same-day statement posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Faulk lauded the council’s role in the process of pursuing linkage.

“The council’s role is extremely important to ensuring our climate policies are successful,” he said. “The members represent communities most directly impacted – and harmed – by climate change and other environmental health hazards. They provide important guidance for legislators and state agencies in this work, and strengthen accountability for addressing environmental health inequities.”

The Center Square also reached out to the council for comment.

“The Council is so new and is still forming all of its processes,” Environmental Justice Council Manager Sierra Rotakhina emailed The Center Square on Monday. “It is not prepared to engage at this time. My hope is that they will have a process in place soon so in the near future our staff have direction and can engage with the media and/or pull our members in when we have inquires.”

The cap-and-trade portion of the Climate Commitment Act, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, requires emitters to obtain “emissions allowances” equal to their covered greenhouse gas emissions at quarterly auctions hosted by the Department of Ecology.

Three quarterly auctions and two Allowance Price Containment Reserve auctions held this year have brought in some $1.6 billion so far. The next quarterly auction is set for Dec. 6.

An Oct. 12 Ecology report warned that “continuing as a standalone program and rejecting linkage could lead to the program being curtailed or even repealed, making it significantly more difficult for our state to meet its GHG [greenhouse gas] emission reduction mandates.”

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