CO2 Regulation Envy

Governor Gregoire is going to beat King County Executive Ron Sims to it: the State legislature just passed House Bill 2815, which establishes reduction targets for C02 emissions as well as strategies for achieving these reductions.

Meanwhile the City of Seattle, whose Mayor is noted for spearheading the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, has not yet adopted any binding legislation that regulates CO2 emissions, and is starting to fall behind in the race between big US cities to require green building in the private sector.

One of the most surprising components of the State legislation is the establishment of goals for the reduction of vehicle miles traveled: 18% by 2020, 30% by 2030, and 50% by 2050. Surprising first of all because we are still living in a highly car-centric culture that for the most part doesn’t take kindly to being told not to drive. And surprising also because the targets are so aggressive, especially considering that the State’s population is expected to grow from 6 million to 10 million by 2050.  Update:  the targets are based on per capita emissions, so population growth is irrelevant.

Because we get much of our electricity from carbon-free hydro-power, the transportation sector accounts for an atypically high 47% of statewide CO2 emissions. So it makes sense to focus on reducing vehicle miles traveled. But there’s an unfortunate twist. The State legislation was crafted to mesh with the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a coalition of seven US States and two Canadian Provinces working to establish a common cap and trade system. However, as reported over at Sightline, WCI’s current recommendation is to not include transportation fuels in the cap and trade system.

In any case, now that it’s about to go on the books that we need to reduce vehicle miles traveled by a full 50% by 2050, how can the State possibly justify spending billions on rebuilding the Viaduct, or spending billions on the 520 bridge, or spending even another penny on increasing car capacity anywhere?  And how can the State possibly justify not spending billions on transit, and not spending billions on compact development that reduces reliance on cars?