Monday, July 26, 2021
July 26, 2021

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Brunell: Legislators must find better ways to cut CO2

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Washington and Oregon lawmakers want to end their legislative sessions; however, accounting for the costs of carbon emissions is a major roadblock.

In Salem, Ore., rural Republican senators are boycotting the session and thereby denying majority Democrats a quorum to vote on a “cap and trade” bill. The measure calls for an 80 percent state reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. The system would be similar to programs in California and some Canadian provinces.

The state would set a cap on total greenhouse gas emissions. Oregon’s largest 100 industries are targeted. They would be required to buy pollution permits to cover their emissions. That includes a variety of large manufacturers, paper mills, fuel distributors and utilities.

Bill opponents say those companies, if they continue to operate in Oregon, are then forced to pass increased costs to consumers including farmers, shippers, loggers, fire and police departments, hospitals and schools. Jenny Dresler of the Oregon Farm Bureau estimates cap and trade would drive up annual fuel costs for farmers between $1,000 and $3,000.

In Olympia, the adjournment deadline is March 12. Democrats in the House have passed what is called a low-carbon fuel standard. It is awaiting action in the Senate.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency estimates that the low-carbon fuel standard would cost the average household in the Puget Sound region $900 a year. Gasoline prices would increase up to 57 cents per gallon and diesel prices by as much as 63 cents within a decade.

The Association of Washington Business estimates that it would cost up to $2 billion in infrastructure changes to switch fuel alternatives and that the low-carbon fuel standard would reduce the state’s gross regional product by $1.4 billion.

Oregon and California passed LCFS laws in 2009 that are costly, complicated and falling short of advertised goals for reducing carbon emissions.

The Washington Policy Center reports the cost of Oregon’s low-carbon fuel mandate more than doubled since it was enacted — jumping from 1 cent to 2.4 cents per gallon.

California Energy Commission’s data shows its LCFS now adds 16 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline and diesel. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts costs will increase to 41 cents per gallon by 2030 and it is 10 times more costly than alternative carbon reduction programs.

“Oregon’s price of $155 per metric ton of CO2 is more than 22 times what Seattle City Light pays to offset greenhouse gas emissions by investing in other CO2-reducing projects. California’s LCFS is even more expensive at $195 per metric ton of CO2, making it nearly 28 times as expensive,” WPC’s Todd Myers wrote. 

A low-carbon fuel standard is a rule enacted to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption. The most common cleaner-burning alternative producing less CO2 is natural gas. However, natural gas projects face strong opposition from anti-carbon-fuel activists.

The main purpose of a low-carbon fuel standard should be to decrease all carbon dioxide emissions by considering the entire life cycle (“well to wheels”) of all vehicles in order to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.

The concept is laudable; however, the same detailed life-cycle analysis does not apply to substitute energy sources such as battery- and hydrogen-operated vehicles. It should. For example, the costs of mining, processing and disposing of metals and chemicals in the lithium batteries should be calculated as part its lifecycle.

No doubt, vehicles emit lots of CO2. EPA calculates transportation generates 29 percent of our total greenhouse gases, making it our largest contributor.

Lots has been accomplished, but lots more needs to be done. There needs to be better approaches.

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