By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The leaders of the three U.S. states along the Pacific Coast and the Canadian province of British Columbia agreed on Monday to align carbon-cutting policies in the coastal region, which together is equivalent to the world's fifth-largest economy.
Under the agreement aimed at aligning climate change strategies, the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington will move to set their first pricing on carbon emissions.
California, which has a cap-and-trade program, and British Columbia, which has a carbon tax, will continue current carbon pricing programs under the deal.
"We're the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we are the last generation that can do something about it," said Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who along with the governors of California and Oregon is a Democrat.
He said recent public hearings made it clear that people in his Pacific Northwest state want action on climate change. "They want a limit on carbon pollution... they want action now."
The new agreement also calls for Oregon and Washington to adopt a "low carbon fuel standard," which requires transportation fuel producers to gradually reduce the carbon content of their products.
Out-of-state oil and ethanol producers have waged a court battle against the policy in California, arguing that it discriminates against their products in favor of California-produced fuels, which are not transported as far.
Both Oregon and Washington state governments have said in the past they wanted to put a price on carbon but were stopped by their legislatures. Inslee and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber said they would put renewed effort into passing the legislation needed to set a price on carbon.
"Each of the governments here is already taking bold steps on climate change; by joining forces, we will accomplish even more," Inslee said.
The agreement does not require all of the programs to be identical or to necessarily interact, although that is a long-term goal. The leaders also agreed to harmonize their medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission targets.
British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak told a news conference in San Francisco on Monday that BC's carbon tax has been a success, boosting economic growth while making the Canadian province carbon neutral.
"What we've learned in British Columbia is that leadership on climate action is good for the economy," she said.
Elsewhere in the agreement, the leaders affirmed the need to let the latest science guide their policies and cooperate with other governments to produce an international agreement on climate change in 2015.
They also pledged to take action to expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, aiming for 10 percent of new vehicle purchases by 2016, and vowed to support the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as it begins to set greenhouse gas emission standards for power plants.
The agreement notes that it is not legally binding and should not create any funding expectations.
(Editing by Ken Wills)