WA carbon emissions highest since 2007, but well below 1999 peak

Dec 29, 2022, 1:50 PM | Updated: 2:41 pm
carbon dioxide emissions...
Smoke from the Weisweiler power plant. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

Washington state is doing a good job at managing carbon emissions but needs to do much better to reach its goals.

In 2019, carbon emissions reached their highest mark since 2007, likely due to reduced hydro power production. But it was 10% under the all-time peak in 1999.

“The increase in emissions is a stark reminder of just how important it is for Washington to take bold action to cut emissions and protect our water supplies, forests, environment, economy, and people from the effects of climate change,” Joel Creswell, Climate Policy Section Manager with the Washington Department of Ecology, said in a prepared statement.

The 1999 spike derived from the increasing demand for electricity alongside a below-average year for hydro power, according to the latest data available from the statewide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The silver lining in the 2019 data is that total emissions remained well below their all-time peak in 1999, and that preliminary 2020 data shows the increase is likely to be short-lived,” Creswell said. “Ecology compiles the latest available data into a report every two years.”

Less water behind the state’s dams in 2019 pushed utilities to use fossil fuels to make up the difference, according to the Department of Ecology.

Because of the complexity of arriving at the numbers, the data lags years behind.

Washington weather ‘stretched limits,’ ‘extremes’ in 2022

The report stated 2019’s emission levels — 101.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — were approximately 10% less than in 1999 — 111.5 million metric tons.

Washington law requires statewide emissions to fall 45% below 1990 levels by 2030, 70% by 2040, and finally reach net zero by 2050.

“It’s remarkable how successful Washington has been in growing our economy and de-carbonizing at the same time,” Creswell said. “Yet, in order to meet the emission limits set in state law, we need to turn the corner quickly and sharply cut carbon pollution.”

Forty-one U.S. states managed to cut their carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017, even as their economies grew, according to a 2020 report from the World Resources Institute.

Maryland (38% drop), New Hampshire (37% drop), and Maine (33% drop) were the leading states in lowering carbon dioxide emissions over that span.

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This data coincides with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a 10-state agreement that caps carbon emissions from power plants in the northeast. The initiative was launched in 2009 to help mirror western states as both Washington and California have relied on less natural gas since the early 2000s.

Texas leads the country in carbon dioxide emissions, with 683 million metric tons produced in 2019 alone, more than double the amount emitted in California, the second-largest producer.

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WA carbon emissions highest since 2007, but well below 1999 peak