The Washington State Supreme Court has invalidated key portions of a rule imposed by the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee capping greenhouse-gas emissions by fuel distributors, natural-gas companies and other industries.
In a 5-4 ruling Thursday, the court upheld a 2017 lower-court decision that the state Department of Ecology had exceeded its legal authority in trying to apply clean-air standards to “indirect emitters” that don’t directly burn fossil fuels.
“The issue is not whether man-made climate change is real — it is,” wrote Chief Justice Debra Stephens in the majority opinion. However, Stephens wrote, Ecology’s efforts to enforce the state Clean Air Act went beyond what had been authorized by the law.
“We are confident that if the State of Washington wishes to expand the definition of emission standards to encompass ‘indirect emitters,’ the Legislature will say so. In the meantime. Ecology may not claim more authority than the Legislature has granted in the Act,” Stephens wrote.
The court ruling on Thursday did hand the Inslee administration a partial victory, upholding the portion of Ecology’s carbon cap that applies to fuel burned on-site at refineries and other facilities. But by excluding indirect emissions, the ruling diminished the rule’s impact in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions in Washington, which have continued to increase.
The state had projected the rule would reduce emissions by 20 million metric tons by 2035 — about two-thirds of the target established by the Legislature in 2008. But three-quarters of that reduction would have come from applying the regulation to indirect emitters, according to the court ruling.