SEATTLE (AP) — Washington environmental regulators on Friday withdrew a proposed rule aimed at limiting carbon emissions from the state's largest industrial facilities, saying they plan to refile another version with substantive changes.
The proposed Clean Air Rule would have required the largest emitters to reduce carbon emissions by 5 percent every three years. Gov. Jay Inslee sought the rule last year after failing to get the Legislature to pass his cap-and-trade plan.
The rule's basic concepts would remain the same, including a cap on carbon emissions that would be reduced over time, said Sarah Rees, the Department of Ecology's special assistant on climate change policy. But the agency heard from numerous groups and businesses and felt it needed more time to make changes in response to public input, she said.
"It would give us more time to finish, more time to continue working with stakeholders," Rees said. "We're still on a fast track. We're still moving forward with an eye to finalize by summer 2016."
Environmental and other groups support the rule as a crucial step to limit greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change. Business groups and others worry it would hurt the state's ability to attract and retain industries.
Republican lawmakers have criticized the Democratic governor for taking executive action on the issue, and some have sought to prohibit the Ecology Department from passing the rule.
"The governor would rather have a rule that works instead of a rule that is rushed," Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said.
The draft rule issued last month initially would have applied to about two dozen manufacturing plants, refineries, power plants, natural gas distributors and others that release at least 100,000 metric tons of carbon a year. Many more facilities would have been covered by the rule as that threshold dropped over time.
The agency said it needs to update several key areas, including clarifying compliance options and making considerations for manufacturers in Washington who face intense global competition.
Rees said the decision to pull the proposed rule "doesn't have anything to do" with a solar incentives bill that passed the House on a 77-20 vote but was amended Thursday in a Republican-led Senate committee.
"We've been considering this for a long time," she said.
The Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee voted to amend House Bill 2346 so that provisions in the solar bill would expire immediately if regulators adopt a carbon-cap rule by June 30, 2016.
Several Democratic senators had criticized the changes, saying the solar bill should not be tied to the debate between the legislative and executive branches over the Clean Air Rule.
"I think there's a time and place for that, and this bill is not it," Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said during the committee meeting.
Rep. Jeff Morris said Friday that he thought the withdrawal of the rule was not tied to changes to the solar-incentives bill.
"It's a coincidence," the Mount Vernon Democrat said.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who chairs the committee, said he thinks the Ecology Department realized they were facing difficulties with the rule, including potential legal questions.
An agency spokeswoman says it is working with the Attorney General's Office and believes the state's Clean Air Act allows the agency to create the rule.
The Ecology Department expects to file a new draft in a couple of months and finalize it by late summer.