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On January 16, in a 5-4 ruling, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has statutory authority to regulate direct emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) in its 2016 Clean Air Rule. The court overturned a lower court finding that the entire rule, including fuels suppliers and distributors, exceeded Ecology's statutory authority.

The State Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower court, to continue legal proceedings challenging the Clean Air Rule. The legal and regulatory future of the rule remains uncertain, but the Rule's GHG reductions for direct emitters have now survived one element of the ongoing legal challenge.

To implement any provisions of the Clean Air Rule that the lower court finds to be within Ecology's authority, Ecology would likely need to engage in further rulemaking, with a public comment process. The State Supreme Court ruling is not expected to have compliance implications for direct emitters affected by the Rule, in the short term. It is unclear whether Ecology will pursue further rulemaking for the Rule when the lower court challenge is concluded. 

The State Supreme Court ruled that Ecology does not have statutory authority to apply emission standards except to direct emitters. The Rule would have also required annual reductions from petroleum product producers and importers, and natural gas distributors, in the amount of indirect GHG created by burning the fuels they produce, import, or distribute. In her majority opinion, Chief Justice Debra Stephens explained that “by its plain language and structure, the Act limits the applicability of emission standards to actual emitters.” 

If you have questions about this ruling or its implications for your facility, please contact Trinity's Seattle office at (253) 867-5600.