Potential fuel standard has state GOP, truckers up in arms

Critics blast Inslee, claiming low-carbon standard would increase fuel costs by $1 per gallon, threaten gas tax package

bshannon@theolympian.comJanuary 13, 2014 

Gov. Jay Inslee joined leaders of California, Oregon and British Columbia in October to sign a Pacific Coast agreement on climate change and energy policy that includes a pledge to adopt a green fuel standard. The standard could encourage wider use of blended fuels or biodiesel that lower the carbon emissions linked to global warming.

Three months later, Inslee finds himself fending off claims by state Republican lawmakers and the trucking industry that he might act alone to enact such a standard. The critics claim the standard would drive up the cost of fuel by $1 a gallon and that it jeopardizes passage of a gas tax package to fix state bridges and upgrade the highway system.

Faced with the Republicans’ mutiny, Inslee pushed back last week against the notion that he is preparing to spring a low-carbon fuel standard on the state via an executive order.

Inslee told reporters that any fuel standard would come at the end of a deliberative process including study of the economic and environmental impacts of such a policy.

“So it is something we are not taking off the table; it is something we are looking into,” Inslee said.

Republican Sen. Curtis King of Yakima was one of several lawmakers who raised the low-carbon fuels issue with reporters at an Associated Press forum on the legislative session that starts Monday. King said fears over a fuel standard is putting a transportation package at risk.

“I think he needs to come out and make a statement this is not going to happen,” King said of Inslee and a fuel standard. The lawmaker is leading the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus effort to craft a transportation tax plan.

But Inslee isn’t backing down from considering ideas being discussed by the Climate Legislative and Executive Workgroup, a climate change solutions committee formed by the Legislature last year at Inslee’s request. Topics on CLEW’s agenda include fuel standards and cap-and-trade.

Inslee’s spokesman, David Postman, said that the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — which is still trying to build support for its version of a gas tax plan — appears to be using the fuel standard possibility to camouflage its failure to produce a viable transportation plan. The Democrat-controlled House passed a plan last year and is waiting for the Senate to counter.

Larry Pursley, executive vice president of the Washington Trucking Association, said Friday that a biofuel standard could drive up fuel costs by more than $1.10 a gallon — on top of any gas tax — based on oil industry claims.

Pursley also said the threat of a fuel standard — however illusory — is scaring off support for a gas tax package, which truckers support. The big worry, Pursley said, is if lawmakers approve a gas tax in March, then see an executive order dealing with a fuel standard in July.

The flare-up comes at a time when CLEW is at a stalemate over what actions to recommend for the state to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

CLEW had been meeting since May to determine Washington’s best strategy for reaching the state goal of cutting carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. The workgroup’s consultants say that goal won’t be met without new policies.

But Republican and Democratic lawmakers on CLEW hit a partisan deadlock. CLEW was supposed to provide recommendations by the end of 2013, but it hasn’t produced a report.

The two Republicans on the panel say they want to continue CLEW’s work into 2014, and they are skeptical about the value of reducing state emissions if it costs consumers or businesses. Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale and Rep. Shelly Short of Addy prefer looking at nuclear energy as a replacement for oil, increasing hydro power production, emphasizing conservation and even backing away from the state’s emissions goals.

But Inslee and the two Democratic lawmakers on the panel say it is time for action, and they’d like the GOP to join in a recommendation on paths the state should pursue. The Democrats favor such things as a cap on carbon emissions and creating a market mechanism for pricing the cost of pollution.

Inslee is expected to address climate change in his state of the state speech scheduled for noon Tuesday.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com theolympian.com/politics-blog theolympian.com/state-workers @bradshannon2

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