Advocates say Jay Inslee is poised to secure a climate win

Source: By Maxine Joselow, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) could notch a major climate victory this spring — something that often has eluded the environmentally focused politician, advocates said yesterday.

Inslee, who ran for president as the self-styled “climate candidate” before withdrawing from the race in August, could succeed in passing a low-carbon fuel standard in Washington state, supporters said during a webinar organized by Climate Solutions, an environmental group.

The low-carbon fuel standard would require fuel producers and importers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with gasoline and other transportation fuels. A similar policy is already in place in nearby California, Oregon and British Columbia.

If the standard passes the Washington Legislature in the coming weeks, the climate implications would be significant. The transportation sector is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions — 42% — in Washington, whose power sector has benefited from an abundance of clean hydropower.

Jason Heuser, public policy and government affairs director at the Eugene Water & Electric Board, an electric utility in Eugene, Ore., said he hopes the policy passes in Washington because he’s seen its benefits firsthand in his home state.

In Oregon, where the comparable policy is known as the Clean Fuels Program, utilities can generate credits by lowering the carbon intensity of their fuels. The revenue from the sale of the credits has gone toward needed investments in electric vehicle charging infrastructure, Heuser said.

Ian Thomson, president of Advanced Biofuels Canada, said the low-carbon fuel requirements in British Columbia have boosted the adoption of cleaner fuels.

“We have seen British Columbia’s largest petroleum refinery … co-feeding renewable oils and fats into the refinery alongside crude oil,” he said.

When the Canadian province began studying the standard 10 years ago, critics predicted it would wreck the economy and raise prices at the gas pump. But Thomson argued those fears were largely unfounded.

“None of the predictions a decade ago when we were putting together the standard have come to pass,” he said.

If the low-carbon fuel standard passes in Washington, Inslee would get a long-sought victory on climate after seeing past ambitions stymied. The governor suffered a pair of high-profile defeats when he failed to pass a carbon tax in 2018, both in the Legislature and at the ballot box.

While serving in Congress in 2008, Inslee also emerged as a champion of the Waxman-Markey bill, a cap-and-trade proposal. But although the bill passed the House, it failed to get a vote in the Senate.

Yesterday’s webinar came after the low-carbon fuel standard began to work its way through the Washington Legislature.

H.B. 1110, from state Democratic Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, would direct the state Department of Ecology to develop the program. It would require fuel producers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their products 10% by 2028 and 20% by 2035 compared with 2017 levels.

The measure passed the state House of Representatives on Jan. 29. It now awaits a hearing by the state Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee before it can receive a vote by the full chamber.

Opponents of the bill have said it would raise gas prices and pinch the pockets of low-income consumers who rely on cars to get around. Republican state Reps. Brandon Vick and Larry Hoff argued in a recent opinion piece that the proposal amounted to a hidden increase in the gas tax.

It’s “not fuel suppliers who would get hit the hardest,” they wrote. “It’s the family in rural Washington that has to drive long distances to get to the grocery store or the doctor’s office. It’s the farmer, already hanging on by a thread, who can’t afford to take on any additional financial burdens. It’s the small trucking company, like GT Stoffel Trucking in Washougal, praying for better rates and fewer headaches.”

But backers of the idea said that a low-carbon fuel standard is popular in the state.

Kelly Hall, Washington policy manager at Climate Solutions, presented polling by the environmental group yesterday that showed broad support for a low-carbon fuel standard among Washington residents — regardless of their reliance on gas-powered cars.

“For folks that are worried and concerned about gas prices, what we found is they’re more worried about climate change,” Hall said.

Bill proponents, though, face a ticking clock. The Legislature, which meets for 60 days in even-numbered years, must adjourn no later than March 12.