Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday laid out another set of ambitious policy priorities to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, focusing this legislative session on transforming the state’s carbon-laden transportation system.
The governor, during a morning news conference in Olympia, asked the Legislature to pass a low-carbon fuel standard, a requirement for ride-hailing companies to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, a bill to create a zero-emission vehicle program and legislation to “align Washington’s emission targets with the latest science,” which would make them more ambitious.
An hour later, climate advocates held a rally in Seattle, trying to bolster support for a separate low-carbon fuel standard under consideration by the local clean air agency that serves the state’s most populous counties.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency measure, which would apply to King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties, could push the state Legislature this session to adopt the bill, or deal with the consequences of having different fuel policies in regions of the state.
“This increases the pressure,” said State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who sponsored the low-carbon fuel standard in the statehouse, and attended the rally in Seattle. The local measure “shows in Olympia this is going to happen one way or another.”
Inslee began his remarks by celebrating landmark legislation passed last session, including bills to rid Washington’s electric grid of fossil-fuel-generated power by 2045, enhance building efficiency standards and ban “super pollutant” hydrofluorocarbons. The governor said he felt “substantial momentum” he wanted to continue into 2020.
“We need action this year,” said Inslee, during a news conference. “We’re well short in doing what’s necessary to protect Washingtonians from the scourge of climate change.”
Transportation needs to be the focus, Inslee said. More than 43 percent of Washington’s greenhouse-gas emissions came from that sector, according to the state’s most recent tally of emissions through 2016.
Environmental groups have been pushing for a clean fuel standard for years in Washington. California, Oregon and British Columbia all have programs in place. The policy would create a carbon intensity score for transportation fuels, and ratchet down the requirements for scores over time to reduce carbon.
Fuel producers and importers who exceed carbon intensity goals would receive credits. Those who fall short would be in deficit and out of compliance. Credits would be bankable and tradable, which could provide revenue for low-carbon providers.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency released a draft rule this fall to create a compliance system for most transportation fuels supplied in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
Fitzgibbon said the policy would be easier for oil companies to implement if it’s carried out statewide, noted that the local measure set more ambitious reductions in fuel’s carbon intensity than at the state level, and said if oil companies and other opponents continued opposing statewide carbon reductions, he expected to “see more local efforts to make a dent in the problem.”
A public comment period ends on Jan. 6. The soonest the board could approve a final rule is Feb. 27, more than six weeks after state lawmakers begin the legislative session.
“If the state were to adopt it [a low-carbon fuel standard], the board would tell staff to put their pencils down,” Craig Kenworthy, the agency’s executive director, said in an interview. After several years of attempts, “it hasn’t happened. They’ve said, ‘OK, keep going on developing a regional standard because we haven’t seen the Legislature move it across the finish.”
Dozens turned out to a public hearing on the rule at the Washington Convention Center on Thursday scheduled to last for nearly eight hours.
Some extolled the health virtues of reducing fossil fuel pollution near highways, said the measure could help communities disproportionately affected by air pollution, and argued that it took needed steps to fight climate change.
“The neighborhoods along I-5 and major transit corridors suffer from higher rates of cardiovascular illness, respiratory illnesses, lower birth rates and shorter life spans,” Anita Penuelas, a family physician, told the air agency board. “It will save lives and improve the health of our community and our patients.”
Sameer Ranade, senior organizer at Front and Centered, told the board that people of color and people with lower incomes often “bear the brunt” of pollution’s effects. Ranade encouraged the board to consider equity provisions and “target neighborhoods for investment that have been disproportionately harmed by pollution.”
Kevin Kuper, of commercial biodiesel manufacturer SeQuential, said higher biodiesel fuels in Oregon were cheaper than conventional fuel and promised markets and opportunities would open in Washington if the board adopted the rule.
Kuper said the market for biofuels in Oregon had grown, and even Washington producers were shipping biofuel south.
“We were selling 60-100,000 gallons a month of biodiesel in Washington. This year, it’s less than 700 gallons a month now. It all stays in Oregon. There’s no market here,” he said. “We need it … we need clean air and we need a future for our children.”
Opponents warned of economic consequences, particularly to the trucking industry, which is more sensitive to price increases per gallon of fuel.
“Everyone wants clean air, but we don’t want to cripple an industry,” said Travis Metzger, a business agent with Local 528, a union of cement masons and plasterers, in an interview. “Cement deliveries, iron deliveries, everything is passed through trucking.”
Jessica Spiegel, the northwest director for the Western States Petroleum Association, said the organization opposed the rule, saying her industry would have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure if it was approved, that the measure would harm the economy.
A technical analysis published by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency said regional economic impacts would be small and have a “negligible” impact on growth. Models projected tens of millions in health savings as a result of better air quality.