Washington outlines draft rule for cleaner fuels

Source: By PHUONG LE and RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press • Posted: Friday, February 6, 2015

SEATTLE — The state is inching toward a requirement to reduce carbon pollution from fuels for cars and trucks with a proposal released Wednesday.

But even as the Department of Ecology outlined a preliminary draft rule requiring cleaner transportation fuels similar to California’s law, agency officials said no decision has been made yet on whether to actually propose such a rule.

The low-carbon fuel standard requires fuel producers to reduce the carbon emissions associated with their products by 10 percent over 10 years. Fuel producers could develop cleaner-burning fuels, mix gasoline with alternative fuels such as biodiesel, or buy credits from other companies.

Supporters say it reduces pollution, offers consumers more fuel choices and jump starts investment in new fuels. The idea is to cut greenhouse gas emissions from driving, which accounts for about 47 percent of the state’s carbon emissions.

Critics say it will raise gasoline prices and hurt consumers. They say there isn’t the technological innovation or adequate supply of low-carbon fuels to meet the targets.

Gov. Jay Inslee last month directed Ecology to draft a rule and get comments from legislators and others. But he said he wants feedback before starting a formal rule-making process. Republican lawmakers have urged Inslee not to take executive action on the issue.

Meanwhile, a group of senators led by Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, on Wednesday unveiled a package of bills that Ericksen said would keep energy prices low while also reducing carbon pollution.

One bill would give the state’s largest electric utilities an alternative way to comply with a law requiring them to get more electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources. Another bill requires the state to seek bids to convert the state’s ferry fleet from diesel to liquefied natural gas, and another offers tax incentives to build small modular nuclear reactors.

“Instead of arguing about ‘is a low carbon fuel standard a good thing or a bad thing,’ I think we can all agree and say that converting Washington state ferries to liquefied natural gas is going to reduce carbon emissions and increase air quality,” said Ericksen, calling the package of bills “a carbon-reduction plan.”

Ericksen is sponsoring Bill 5735 that would allow utilities to meet their targets under Initiative 937 by investing in carbon reduction. That law requires nearly a third of the state’s utilities, those with at least 25,000 customers, to ramp up and get 15 percent of power from wind, solar, geothermal and certain woody biomass by 2020.

Anything that reduces carbon would qualify, such as the installation of electric vehicle chargers. Utilities could also spend 1 percent of their retail revenue on carbon reduction in order to meet the initiative’s requirements.

“Everything must be on the table,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, who joined Ericksen at the news conference to support the proposal.

Under a low carbon fuel standard, an analysis by the state Office of Financial Management that found gas prices would increase by 2 cents in 2020 to 10 cents by 2026, under certain assumptions. Republicans have noted that under another scenario, gas prices could increase more than 20 cents a gallon.

Ecology director Maia Bellon said any claim that the costs will be much higher is simply not correct.

Public hearings are scheduled Feb. 19 in Seattle and Feb. 23 in Spokane.