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We’re greener here than most

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Students eat lunch as water is released from Grand Coulee Dam, the nation’s largest hydroelectric dam, in 2011.

Washington is already well-known for being a green state. We’ve got unmatched natural beauty, strict environmental regulations and a population that truly cares about the environmental legacy it leaves for the next generation.

This is, after all, the place that inspired PEMCO Insurance’s “Northwest Profile No. 17: Relentless Recycler,” one of several ads poking fun at how folks in the Northwest are “a little different.”

Thankfully, this is one case where the stereotype matches reality.

A new report card published by the Association of Washington Business offers more evidence that Washington is, in fact, among the greenest states in the country.

The state ranked in the top 10 in 15 of the 18 categories included in the 2014 Competitiveness Greenbook, a study that compares Washington to other states in a variety of metrics such as per capita carbon emissions, use of public transportation and energy efficiency.

In five of the categories, Washington ranked among the top five states in the nation.

None of this is likely a surprise to the folks who live here, but it’s worth remembering as elected officials and state policy makers consider adopting even tighter environmental regulations — regulations that will likely come with a cost to the economy.

Things like cap-and-trade schemes, a carbon tax and a low-carbon fuel standard — which are expected to come up for debate in the next legislative session if not sooner — might be appropriate to consider in states that are lagging behind in environmental protection.

But are they too aggressive for Washington?

It’s good to be a leader on environmental issues. It’s better to be a leader on environmental issues and the job market.

The latest Greenbook, which is a follow-up to the original 2011 Greenbook, not only shows that Washington is green relative to the rest of the world, but it’s also improving.

In the 2011 report, Washington state contributed 0.26 percent of the world’s carbon emissions. In the latest Greenbook, the figure dropped to just 0.21 percent.

Washington is improving compared with other states, too. In the 2011 Greenbook, the Evergreen state ranked ninth-lowest in the country for per capita carbon emissions at a little more than 12 metric tons. In the 2014 report, the state improved to eighth-best at slightly more than 10 tons.

Of course, one of the reasons that Washington is among the greenest states in the country is the abundance of clean, renewable hydropower.

And we’re using more hydro than we were even a few years ago. More than 75 percent of Washington’s electricity now comes from renewable hydropower, according to the 2014 Greenbook. That’s up from about 70 percent in the 2011 report.

Wind is providing more of our power, too —5.6 percent now compared with 3.3 percent a few years ago.

The increase in hydroelectric and wind power percentages and a drop in the percentage of electricity produced from coal and natural gas mean that Washington now produces less than 10 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels.

That’s down dramatically from the 2011 Greenbook when the figure was nearly 20 percent, and it’s far below the national average of 69 percent.

What does all of this mean?

For starters, it serves as further confirmation that Washington is already a leader when it comes to the environment. And it means that we’re not resting on our laurels.

We can always look for ways to improve, but we should be proud of the position we’re in now — and resist attempts to sacrifice the economy in an attempt to make a good thing slightly better.

Kris Johnson is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce.