Democrat-controlled state house passes clean fuels bill over opposition

Proponents point to helping environment, new jobs; opponents see gas price increase

OLYMPIA — People will be asked to use a lot less gasoline and to convert to alternative clean fuels in the next 15 years if a proposal before the state Legislature becomes law.

After lengthy debate, Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1110 passed 54-44 in the House despite bipartisan opposition. Five Democratic lawmakers voted no.

If it becomes law, the measure would direct the state Department of Ecology to adopt a clean fuels program with the goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions per unit of fuel to 20 percent of 2017 levels by the year 2035.

Clean-fuel advocates believe the policy could reduce emissions and pollution and give incentives for the innovation and adoption of new clean and renewable fuels to be used within the state. Opponents worry the proposed law would increase energy costs for consumers and businesses.

Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, said Renewable Energy Group produces 100 million gallons of renewable biodiesel in his district. He said 90 percent of that fuel is sold out of state.

Chapman added that promising economic potential exists in the use of lumber and logging waste for biofuel production.

He said the bill is about, “a lot more than protecting the environment. This is a bill about jobs.”

However, many were concerned that the legislation would lead to an increase in gas prices, causing disproportionate economic burden for rural and agricultural communities.

A report that analyzed transportation fuels in the Puget Sound region estimated a 22- to 57-cent increase in cost per gallon of gas by 2030 under a clean-fuel standard similar to what is proposed by this legislation. The report estimated a 24- to 63-cent per gallon increase for diesel for the same timeframe.

Rep. Alex Ybarra, R-Quincy, urged his colleagues to vote no on the bill, testifying that people in his district have to drive long distances on a daily basis. He said people may have to drive more than 30 miles one-way just to commute to work, buy groceries or even to attend school.

Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, said on his ranch, fuel is the second largest expense behind fertilizer. He said an increase in fuel cost would also cause the price of fertilizer to rise. He argued many ranchers would not be able to afford this kind of increase in expenditures.

The Puget Sound transportation fuels report also projected that the maximum achievable reduction in carbon intensity in the region resulting from a similar clean fuel standard is 26 percent among transportation fuels by 2030, with an estimated 10 percent as the minimum reduction.

Rep. Kelly Chambers, R-Puyallup, argued against passage, claiming environmental benefits would not be worth the economic costs. She argued it is not equitable for the bill to make exemptions for airline companies, but then place the burdens of these regulations on industries such as agriculture.

The bill’s companion, Senate Bill 5412, is still in committee.

For more information, see the Puget Sound fuel analysis report at tinyurl.com/PDN-FuelReport.

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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