Montanas coal-fired Colstrip power plant.
Montana's coal-fired Colstrip power plant. David T. Hanson

Puget Sound Energy, the private utility company that serves natural gas to Seattle and electricity to the rest of King County, has received praise for meeting and exceeding its carbon reduction targets under the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. But in the wake of the Trump administration's plan to repeal the federal government's best shot at climate control, local environmental activists say they're concerned that the utility is joining the wrong side of history by advocating for a replacement plan that could walk back certain climate targets.

"They need to explicitly and immediately step out and declare their support for the Clean Power Plan as is," Doug Howell, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club, told The Stranger.

The Sierra Club's frustration with PSE comes from its role on a coalition of energy utilities and private companies across the country that last month put out a proposal to replace the Clean Power Plan if the Trump administration were to repeal it. On Monday, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt announced that he had signed a measure that would indeed scrap the Obama-era power plant regulations.

Those regulations would have required states to reduce emissions to certain levels by 2030. The new plan, created by a group of utilities called Coalition for Innovative Climate Solutions (CICS), while vague about compliance requirements, pushes the date for compliance back five years to 2035. That bugs enviros. While Puget Sound Energy is already court-ordered to shut down two of the oldest, coal-burning facilities at Montana's Colstrip power plant (resulting from a lawsuit with environmental organizations including the Sierra Club), environmental activists are concerned that it isn't doing more to support of the Clean Power Plan's original goals.

"There is no need to extend the deadline," Howell said. "The only thing that Puget [Sound Energy] is doing is aligning themselves with Trump and his allies that seek to dismantle the Clean Power Plan. Their mantra is: Don't repeal, replace. Frankly, I think that's crap. The EPA and Trump have one agenda: to repeal. The only thing this coalition is doing is giving Trump power to do that."

But Puget Sound Energy says the compliance date of 2035 in the CICS white paper doesn't really matter.

"We're on plan to deliver cleaner and cleaner energy and we will certainly continue on that path," Grant Ringel, a spokesperson for the utility, said. "Our real focus from our involvement in that organization is that if the administration decides to repeal the Clean Power Plan, we support replacement as soon as possible."

Ringel said that the company wasn't advocating for "any specific timeframe" because doing so would be "getting ahead of yourself" before the EPA figured out the new rules.

As for the claim that PSE and the CICS are siding with the Trump administration or enabling the destruction of the Clean Power Plan, Ringel said: "We're looking forward, not backward. We very much think that if the Clean Power Plan goes away, something ought to replace it, and as I said, our plans to provide cleaner energy here are underway and well known."

King County, which is served by PSE, has a plan to phase out coal electricity by 2025—more than a decade ahead of the CICS compliance date.