Inslee: A tall guy, particularly when compared to children, even when sitting.
Inslee: A tall guy, particularly when compared to children, and even when sitting. Governor's Office/Flickr

Not-so-jolly green giant Jay Inslee is sticking it to the opponents of his climate agenda in the state legislature. Today, Inslee's office announced that the governor is using his executive authority to direct the Department of Ecology to put a cap on carbon emissions.

It's something of a last resort. Inslee started out the legislative session with a plan to generate $1 billion for the state by implementing a cap-and-trade system for the state's top 130 polluters. But the prospect of all that new revenue didn't sway the oil-soaked Republican opposition, and House Democrats didn't even introduce the cap-and-trade proposal into their own budget. On top of that, at the end of the session Inslee felt he had to sign a transportation package that included a poison pill—one that would have divested millions of dollars away from transit should the governor implement a clean fuel standard under his own authority.

Some speculated Inslee would bite down on the poison pill anyway to make some sort of gain on climate. But today's announcement means that Inslee's dodging the poison pill altogether.

"This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action,” Inslee said in a statement. “But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps."

Ecology's emission reductions goals have yet to be determined, and so does their scope. The press release said that the cap would "force a significant reduction in air pollution" to make sure "the state meets its statutory emission limits set by the Legislature in 2008."

In 2008, the state ruled that it would reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990-levels by 2020, strip away another 25 percent of emissions by 2035, and decrease emissions 50 percent below 1990-levels by 2050. But some say those emissions reduction goals don't go far enough. The Department of Ecology is currently being sued by a group of kids urging the state to consider emissions reduction goals backed by the "best available science" instead. Last month, a judge agreed that Ecology would have to consider the plaintiffs' petition. (Inslee spokesperson David Postman said he doesn't believe today's move is related to the lawsuit.)

The decision to put a cap on state carbon emissions also doesn't preclude the possibility of climate ballot initiatives seeking to flesh out a fuller—and more equitable—plan. Inslee's original proposal included a $400 million reinvestment in transportation and education for "disadvantaged communities," but his office has only recently started working with environmental justice and labor groups that aim to put racial and social justice at the center of Inslee's climate agenda. Their goal would be to make sure the benefits of climate policies go back to communities most affected by pollution and environmental harms.

"We still have to address how to do this in a way that's genuinely equitable and provides real affordable options for people who need them the most," KC Golden, senior policy advisor at Climate Solutions, said. "I think rule-making is more limited for people with those needs. We still have to do it through legislation or a ballot initiative."

We've reached out to the Western States Petroleum Association—one of the most critical voices on Inslee's climate initiatives—and will update if we hear back.