Washington's 2013 Climate Report Card

By Martha Baskin, Crosscut

Energy: B+

Energy, hands down, gets the highest marks, particularly when it comes to grid power for buildings and housing. The most significant carbon slayer here is energy efficiency: insulation, retrofits and thermal wraps of windows, doors and roofs. It may not sound sexy, but it’s a conservation measure that’s been gaining ground for thirty years.

The Northwest has saved enough energy through efficiency measures to power nearly five cities the size of Seattle, according to KC Golden, a policy analyst with Climate Solutions. Energy is best understood in megawatts rather than time, he says, and an estimated 5,000 average megawatts have been saved over the course of a year. (A megawatt hour is a million watts for one hour). Seattle likely uses 1100 megawatts a year.

Since 2006, each of Washington’s 17 largest electric utilities have met or exceeded energy efficiency targets mandated by I-937.

Transportation: D

Try and score transportation, the state’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and you’ll find few carbon wins. Light Rail is making ground and Sound Transit is doing its part to move people from point A to point Z, but single occupancy vehicles still reign over rideshares, vanpools, and buses. And, Clark Williams-Derry, Sightline Institute’s Director of Programs, says despite impressive growth in sales of electric vehicles, “they remain little more than a rounding error in Washington’s vehicle fleet data.”

In 2011, about 5.9 million vehicles vied for space on city streets and and jammed state highways. The legislature, for its part, has yet to fund a transportation “package.” Many say the solution is a three legged stool: alternatives to cars, cleaner cars and cleaner fuels. But with funding for mass transit in crisis mode, it’s hard to envision the stool having any legs to stand on.

Fossil fuel exports: C

The 3rd carbon behemoth facing the state — increased fossil fuel exports — is the most difficult to score. These include coal from Montana’s Powder River basin, tar sands from Alberta and crude from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields. The Department of Ecology hasn’t begun to assess the collective carbon impact of these exports, although it does monitor coal’s impact on air quality.

A Sightline Institute report, “Coal Exports Are Bigger Threat Than Tar Sands Pipeline” found surprising results. “Coal looks to be an even bigger climate disaster than the pipeline,” wrote report author, Eric de Place, who assumed that 110 million tons of Powder River Basin coal might be exported annually. “Do all the algebra,” he writes, “and you arrive at 199 million tons of CO2 per year in ‘direct’ emissions from coal exports”.

Compare that with the 144 million tons of CO2 emissions de Place estimates would result from the Keystone XL pipeline each year and you might ask, as he has, “which climate catastrophe is worse?”

Read the full article originally published on Crosscut.