Wednesday, March 22, 2023
March 22, 2023

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In Our View: New laws will help state reduce emissions

The Columbian

Consumers likely won’t notice an immediate impact, but Washington has enacted two important policies for reducing statewide emissions and mitigating climate change.

A clean-fuel standard and a cap-and-trade policy, both passed by the Legislature last year and supported by Gov. Jay Inslee, have taken effect with the beginning of a new year. In the process, they have reinforced Washington’s status as a leader in climate policy.

Indeed, the policies have plenty of critics, who argue that oppressive regulation will harm consumers and the state’s economy. But in the long run, those policies reflect a moral duty to reduce emissions while marking Washington as well prepared for the economy of the future.

The clean-fuel standard requires transportation fuel suppliers to gradually limit carbon emissions in their products, seeking a reduction of 20 percent below 2017 levels over the next 15 years.

The plan incentivizes the creation of alternative fuels and penalizes producers of fuels that don’t meet the standard. As reported by The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review: “Alternative fuels include ethanol; biofuels made from things like agricultural residue or waste; renewable diesel made from things like vegetable oil or food processing waste; electricity or hydrogen, among others.”

Perhaps most important, the program echoes similar legislation in California, Oregon and British Columbia, giving economies-of-scale weight to a transformation in the industry.

The cap-and-trade program sets annual limits on emissions by the state’s largest polluters. Companies that cannot stay within the cap may purchase allowances from the state. Last year, the Department of Ecology granted free allowances to more than 40 companies that face out-of-state competition and might leave Washington for states with less-stringent regulations.

Under Washington law, statewide emissions must be 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. But achieving such goals requires more than wishful thinking or Pollyannaish declarations from state officials.

The state Department of Ecology recently released information for 2019, revealing that emissions increased about 7 percent that year from the previous year. From 2012 to 2019, statewide emissions increased 10 percent, despite efforts to curb greenhouse gases.

Ecology staff wrote: “Our state has launched a range of initiatives designed to bring down carbon pollution and transition from polluting sources of energy. Long story short, a review of these policies shows that they are working as intended.”

The facts appear to belie that assertion. And they point out the importance of accurate, thorough and frequent assessments of the clean-fuel standard and the cap-and-trade policy.

Facts also are essential in considering gas prices in Washington. Critics of the new policies frequently echo assertions that gas prices will increase more than 40 cents per gallon, but that claim is specious. A clean-fuels standard in Oregon contributed an estimated 5 cents per gallon to price increases, according to that state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Gas prices are influenced by global events, such as the actions of OPEC or Russia’s war in Ukraine, in addition to state policies. And nationally, the average gas price has declined more than $1.50 since June.

All of that matters to consumers and to Washington’s quality of life. But it does not override the vital importance of finding an effective method for reducing emissions in the state.