Wash. governor set to use executive authority to enact clean fuels program

Source: Julia Pyper, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014

On the heels of an executive order that jump-starts efforts to address climate change, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) has signaled he is willing to take further executive action to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels.

Appearing on a recent Seattle-based television show, Inslee said he is willing to use executive authority to implement a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). The program would mandate that fuel producers reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel mix over time to clean up the transportation sector, which accounts for roughly 44 percent of Washington’s greenhouse gas emissions.”It is clear that it is both my role and my responsibility to act where legislators fail, and there’s been so far an abject failure to do any action to really deal with carbon pollution,” he said.

The LCFS is one of several measures, including a “cap and market” program, the governor announced he would explore to meet the state’s 2030, 2035 and 2050 climate goals in an executive order released earlier this month (Climatewire, April 30).

But while any kind of market system to address carbon pollution would have to pass through the Legislature, Washington state law allows for a clean fuel standard to be enacted through executive authority, Inslee said.

“If you want to be an odds-maker, I think it’s a probability that we will be able to fashion a low-carbon fuel standard that will be effective for the state of Washington, both for carbon pollution and from a cost-containment standpoint,” he said. “From what I know today, I think it’s a likelihood we will succeed in fashioning that.”

Push-back from ag, industry

A clean-fuels standard assigns carbon values to different fuels and encourage the adoption of cleaner fuels, like natural gas, electricity for plug-in vehicles and biofuels. Oil and gas companies say the program will be costly and result in higher overall fuel prices.

Critics have also railed against Inslee for abandoning bipartisan negotiating process in favor of executive action. In February, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) of Oregon also came under fire for issuing a directive to fully implement Oregon’s clean fuel program, which passed the state Legislature in 2009 but has seen little further action.

The governors’ willingness to go it alone on climate action comes as President Obama is also using executive power to implement his climate agenda.

“There’s no question that a low-carbon fuel standard would hit consumers hard at the gas pump; some estimates are up to a dollar even more so per gallon,” said Matt Dempsey, consultant for the anti-regulatory group Secure Our Fuels.

“Obviously, that’s why in Washington and Oregon … there have been coalitions put together by various voices from the agriculture community, to truckers and industry pushing back on governors about not being able to be part of this process,” he added.

But before taking any action, Inslee stressed he will await the results of a thorough economic and scientific evaluation of a clean fuel standard initiated in the executive order released earlier this month.

The new study will analyze the availability of low-carbon fuels and their respective carbon intensity values. It builds on an outdated 2010 evaluation that found the LCFS would have no detrimental effect on Washington’s economy.

According to a previous independent study by the Reston, Va.-based consulting firm Leidos, the Washington state LCFS is expected to cost 6-8 cents per gallon from 2016 to 2035.

Any steps the governor does take to cut transportation emissions will be inclusive and transparent, said David Postman, executive communications director to the governor.

“If he finds a system he thinks can work, then there’s a very public rulemaking process,” Postman said. “But that can be done through executive action; it won’t require legislative approval to implement a clean fuel standard.”