Editor’s note: Capitol Dispatch appears every Sunday during the legislative session.
A clean fuel standard intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles passed out of the state House on Wednesday and was sent to the Senate, where the same bill stalled last session.
All four representatives from the 19th and 20th Legislative Districts voted against the measure, saying it could increase gas prices by as much as 57 cents per gallon.
State Sen. John Braun, a Centralia Republican, said he will vote against the measure if it makes it to the Senate floor. Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview Democrat, said he has “serious concerns” and is leaning towards voting against the bill. Multiple lawmakers said there doesn’t seem to be enough support to pass the measure out of the Senate.
Environmentalist groups applauded the vote and major businesses such as Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle have supported the legislation.
The Association of Washington Business, however, opposed the measure.
The fuel standard would mandate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources to 10% below 2017 levels by 2028. By 2035, emissions would have to drop 20% below 2017 levels. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, according to scientists.
Exemptions would include electricity, transportation fuel that is not used in Washington, military tactical vehicles, and fuel for the propulsion of all aircraft, railroad locomotives or vessels. Special fuel for off-road log vehicles, dyed special fuel for construction work and timber harvesting vehicles and dyed special fuel for agricultural purposes would be exempt until 2028. (Dyed diesel is colored red and is limited to certain uses, such as construction, farming and home heating.)
The House passed the legislation last session on a 53-43 vote. This week, 52 representatives voted for the bill and 44 opposed it.
State Rep. Richard DeBolt, a Chehalis Republican, said he voted against the bill because it will disproportionately hurt rural communities where people have to drive further for school and work. And he said it isn’t clear how the mitigation revenue would be used or invested.
Washington is a “very responsible” state when it comes to reducing carbon and promoting alternative energy sources, such as hydro- and wind power, DeBolt said.
He added that when people are in better financial situations, they purchase environmentally friendly cars and appliances.
“Instead we’re trying to beat them into submission and make them poorer, and that doesn’t work for me,” he said “It’s this win-at-all-costs environmental mentality that’s pushing this bill, and they don’t think of the people they’re hurting.”
Rep. Brian Blake, an Aberdeen Democrat, called the vote “unnecessary” because he’s heard there isn’t enough support in the Senate to pass the bill into law.
He voted against the legislation, saying he’d rather focus on good forest management incentives to combat carbon emissions.
Aberdeen Republican Rep. Jim Walsh said a similar low carbon program in California reduced carbon output by less than 2%. Because Washington’s carbon footprint is already small compared to the rest of the world’s, the impact of the legislation on global carbon emissions would be almost “negligible.”
In addition, Washington voters have shot down similar proposals in the past, Walsh said. And the recent passage of Initiative 976, which eliminates and reduces taxes on vehicles, shows that Washingtonians feel like transportation is being overtaxed, he said.
“I don’t think we need to legislate this. Let people choose to shrink their carbon footprint. Our state is already way ahead of the curve on this stuff. We’re trying to legislate reducing a carbon footprint that’s already very small,” Walsh said.
If it comes to the floor of the Senate, Takko said he’s open to hearing arguments from both sides but he is concerned about the impact on gas prices.
Some senators already are saying it’s time to introduce another transportation package in next year’s session to fund road and bridge projects, which could require another gas tax, Takko said. If gas prices have already increased from the low-carbon fuel standard, it will be hard to run that package.
“I’m not against doing some things — I voted for the energy bill last year. But I want to know that it’s going to make a difference if we’re going to charge people more for their gas,” Takko said.
He said he’d rather address carbon emissions on a national level so there’s a level playing field, which is better than going about it “piecemeal” state by state.
Sen. Braun said he’d rather use voluntary programs and incentives to encourage carbon-reduction practices, such as carbon capture in forestry practices.
“Nobody’s opposed to reducing the carbon footprint. Nobody wants more carbon,” Braun said. “But we should do it in a way that’s sustainable and doesn’t penalize certain parts of our state.”
The best approach is to have everyday people make environmentally friendly decisions each day, he said. Much like the organic food movement, there will be a natural demand for products and services that have a low impact on the carbon footprint.
Proponents of the bill have argued that it would prompt investments and job creation in the renewable fuel sector and reduce air pollution, which is linked to asthma, lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.
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