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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

These Are Washington's Top 10 Climate Polluters

The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, one of Washington's top 10 sources of greenhouse gases.
Flickr Photo/Scott Butner (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/
The Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, one of Washington's top 10 sources of greenhouse gases.

The biggest climate polluters in Washington have been identified, according to numbers out this week: the TransAlta coal-burning power plant in Centralia, the BP oil refinery at Cherry Point and the Shell Oil refinery in Anacortes.

As the state gears up to regulate climate-harming pollution, the Washington Department of Ecology has been tracking emissions from the state's biggest sources.

Collectively, Washingtonians driving their cars and trucks put out far more carbon dioxide than any single industrial source — or even any industrial sector.

But since it might be harder to change the driving habits of millions of people than to get a few big polluters to clean up their acts, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing to start regulating the biggest polluters.

Power plants, oil refineries and paper mills dominate the top 20 for 2014, with the Alcoa Intalco smelter in Ferndale making number seven and the Ash Grove Cement plant in Seattle coming in at number 20.

Inslee wants the state's biggest polluters to cut their emissions 5 percent every three years on the way to deeper statewide cuts.

A 2007 executive order from Gov. Chris Gregoire committed Washington to reducing statewide emissions of greenhouse gases emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "123832", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201601/CO2Top10.JPG", "attribution": ""}]]SOURCE: Washington Department of Ecology

According to numbers released this week, emissions from major industrial sources pumped out about 35 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in 2014, about the same as in 2013.  But the emissions were up 20 percent from 2012.

Stu Clark with the Department of Ecology said weather appears to be a driver of that increase.

"If it's a drought year like last year, our hydropower's down, and that's replaced by fossil fuel power, and that can make the numbers overall move quite a bit from year to year," Clark said.

Scientists say a warming climate could mean more drought and less hydropower in Washington. It's a vicious cycle that could push the state to use more fossil fuels, further accelerating climate change.

On The Hook, Off The Hook

Small individual sources like farms or motor vehicles are excluded from the proposed carbon pollution rules. Some big polluters are off the hook as well.

"The TransAlta coal plant in Centralia is excluded because it's already required by law to shut down," Clark said.

That plant, the state's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is required to shut down one of its two coal-fired boilers in 2020, the other in 2025.

"We're excluding emissions from things like aviation, marine fuel and fuel that's exported because that's combusted out of state," Clark said. "But it's pretty much economy-wide."

BP spokesman Michael Abendhoff declined to comment on the Cherry Point refinery's emissions or on the proposed carbon rule.

"This rule is being rushed through the process extremely quickly," said Frank Holmes of the Western States Petroleum Association. He said his group was working with the Ecology Department to understand the rule before deciding what to do about it.

The Ecology Department is taking public comment on Gov. Inslee's proposed carbon regulations through April 8.

Year started with KUOW: 2009