By Joseph Claypoole
WNPA Olympia News Service
OLYMPIA — A low carbon fuel bill was passed by the state House of Representatives on Feb. 27 in a 52-46 vote, with every Republican voting against the measure. Its next stop is the Senate.
The bill directs the Department of Ecology to institute rules that require refineries producing fuels like gasoline and diesel to have reduced greenhouse gas output over time.
Current goals within the bill require emissions per unit of fuel to be 10% below 2017 levels by 2028 and 20% below 2017 levels by 2035.
The bill also requires an annual report from the Department of Ecology and guidelines for a credit system for related companies that meet the new fuel emissions rules. Oregon and California already have similar programs.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-West Seattle, the prime sponsor for the bill, said this credit system would make cleaner fuels cheaper for consumers.
“Part of the goal is to lower the cost of fuels that are cleaner than gasoline and diesel,” Fitzgibbon said. “It provides another revenue stream for those producers and enables them to bring down the cost of those [cleaner] fuels.”
The finer details for a credit system have been left up to the Department of Ecology, but a framework of the credits being bankable and tradeable has been put in place.
House Republicans like Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, are concerned that this policy will drive up the price of gas for everyone in Washington.
“It will result in price increases in every sector of our economy which uses transportation, including the food on our tables,” Rep. Dye said in a news release. “Every person who drives a vehicle will be impacted.”
Unlike the 1990 and 2007 federal legislation that required specific amounts of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline, this bill has no such hard policies. Instead, the means for lowering greenhouse gas emissions is left to the producers and suppliers.
Fuels used by aircraft, railroad locomotives, military vehicles and some others are exempt from the reduction requirements. Other special fuels, like those used in some logging, construction, and agricultural equipment, are exempt until Jan. 1, 2028.
This legislation met heavy opposition from farmers, oil and petroleum companies and many other invested parties.
Robert Thompson, the owner of Vintners Logistics, says the bill is a step in the wrong direction for smaller farms where equipment can’t utilize exempt fuels.
“Adding a low carbon fuel standard is just a regressive tax,” Thompson said. “We’re going to have to pass it on through every shipment. Every loaf of bread, gallon of milk, blanket for the homeless — it’s going to cost more.”
Concerns were also raised about job loss, lack of infrastructure, the timeline for implementation, and that, in California and Oregon, a majority of the benefits leave the state.
Jessica Spiegel, the spokeswoman for Western States Petroleum Association, said the bill is costly and ineffective.
“The bill will regressively burden families and businesses with billions in infrastructure and fuel costs,” Spiegel said. “The California program has already added 24 cents to the cost of their gasoline.”
Those in favor of the bill, like Patrick Serfass, executive director of the American Biogas Council, argued the bill would actually provide economic growth. According to Serfass, Washington produces millions of tons of organic waste a year, most of which could be turned into biofuel.
“Approving a policy like HB 1091 will incentivize new biogas systems to be built,” Serfass said.
“Not only to produce the renewable fuel, but also to create the infrastructure to recycle all this organic material.”
Fitzgibbon said this bill won’t just help the environment, but people as well. Especially for those who live near congested highways.
“Transportation is by far the largest contributor of emissions in our state,” Fitzgibbon said. “The cleaner-burning fuels don’t just emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions they also emit fewer of the air pollutants that harm human health.”
More information on exempt fuels and the bill can be found on the leg.wa.gov website.