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Exposing False Solutions Report

Exposing False Solutions to Industry Emissions

Environmental justice communities in our state – Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and low-income communities – are hit first and worst by the climate crisis. Our communities should not be sacrificed to pollution and climate impacts when we know we can thrive through a Just Transition to an economy regenerative of people and planet.

Front and Centered opposes approaches to the climate crisis that rely on pollution trading marketplaces which promise a solution to fossil fuel pollution, but don’t require any specific polluters to actually slow or stop emissions. The cap-and-trade scheme in Washington’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA) allows toxic pollution to continue unabated through the trading of “allowances” to pollute, through “offsets” that don’t address the problem at the source, and through creating a pollution marketplace and carve-outs where buying, banking, and selling of allowances are prioritized over cutting emissions. We cannot trade or offset the ability of our communities to breathe.

“Outcomes to date in California may serve as a warning that the time for direct industrial carbon emission standard in Washington is now.”

— Greg Karras, report author

The Washington State Department of Ecology is currently developing the program rules and definitions necessary to implement the CCA, passed during the 2021 legislative session. In a new report, Exposing False Solutions: How Washington’s Cap and Trade Program Gives Industrial Polluters a Free Pass, Front and Centered examines the State policy regarding “emissions-intensive [and] trade-exposed” (EITE) industries* – facilities that release large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions – as part of this cap-and-trade scheme.

Key findings of our report include:

  • Providing heavy polluting industries with cap-and-trade allowances at no cost will allow at least nine-tenths of total current industrial carbon emissions to continue free of charge through 2034, delaying the essential switch to low-carbon technology.

  • This policy allows a pathway for industries to increase emissions through changes in production, which will prolong and worsen environmental justice impacts here in Washington, especially for frontline communities.

  • This policy of carbon trading with industrial allowances provided free of charge has failed to reduce industrial emissions elsewhere. We must choose a different policy solution to ensure climate stabilization and environmental justice. 

  • Only direct, facility-specific industrial emission reductions will achieve deep emission cuts and ensure that state climate and environmental justice goals are realized.

“We cannot trade or offset the ability of our communities to breathe.” 

Critics say the [EITE] designation treats certain industries different from others. State officials implementing the program agreed, for the most part, but their hands are tied. Leaving the rules unchanged, they said, could jeopardize statewide efforts to decarbonize.

“If [EITE industries] don’t reduce their emissions and we’re in 2040 and 2050, we’re probably not going to be able to meet our statewide targets,” said Luke Martland, the program’s implementation manager.

— Excerpt from the Seattle Times, Aug. 2, 2022

Environmental justice communities in Washington know that structural change is necessary to respond to our climate crisis. In contrast, carbon trading prioritizes incremental change in carbon-intensive industries. This is by design and it is not enough. As a result, policymakers are tinkering with solutions at the margin in collaboration with the biggest polluters while ecosystems that support life are collapsing. This is not climate justice.

Through Front and Centered community advocacy – including this report, community briefings, participating in the Environmental Justice Council, and more – we aim to inform and engage our communities and the wider public around the impacts of cap and trade schemes while offering real solutions. We must learn from the experiences of our communities and fight for solutions that reduce local emissions and pollution at the source, not programs that disregard disparities in and perpetuate the destructive practice of sacrifice zones. Only then can we create a just path forward that will answer the challenges we face.

“Supporting their role in trade while leaving their carbon intensive technologies in place, the EITE policy could reinforce this systemic carbon lock-in.”

* Under the CCA, while most carbon emitters in Washington that produce more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon emissions a year are required to obtain emissions allowances, industries defined as EITEs will be given emissions allowances at no cost until 2034. These include pulp and paper mills, petroleum refineries, and some metal, mineral, and chemical manufacturers.

Watch our briefing: