Washingtonians get first look at proposed clean fuels standard 

Source: Nathanael Massey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, February 6, 2015

The government of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) offered an early glimpse of a proposed rule to curb carbon in state transportation fuels yesterday, readying the way for public debate on what has already become a divisive issue.

The discussion document published by the state’s Department of Ecology is not a draft rule but offers the first concrete details of what a low-carbon fuel standard might look like in the state. It comes on the heels of an economic analysis by the state’s Office of Financial Management, published in December, that projected positive job growth, increased personal income and an increasingly competitive market for biofuels if the rule were implemented.

In form, the proposed standard looks much like those already in place in Oregon and California. It aims to cut the carbon content of fuel sold and burned in-state by 10 percent over 10 years and would be operated through a system of auctions between clean power generators, which produce credits, and fuel sellers, which must purchase them.

Such a standard would raise the cost of gas in-state by between 10 and 20 cents per gallon by 2026, according to the analysis by the Office of Financial Management. A separate study commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association, which opposes the standard, found that it could increase the cost of gas by more than a dollar a gallon.

High hopes meet politics

The Clean Fuel Standard was part of an ambitious climate package laid out by Inslee last year, along with incentives for renewable energy and a proposed statewide cap-and-trade scheme.

Washington is nominally committed to regional cooperation on climate with California and Oregon, both of whom have low-carbon fuel standards already written into law. Oregon is currently looking to extend the sunset clause on its own rule, with the Democratic-controlled Legislature likely to do so this year (Greenwire, Feb. 3).

In Washington, however, Inslee has been forced to rely on the power of his executive order to advance the state’s climate commitments. He faces a split Legislature coming off last November’s midterm elections, with Republicans cool to the prospect of low-carbon fuel and climate legislation in general.

Last year, Republican legislators took a pre-emptive swipe at the rule, calling it a gas tax in a joint letter to the governor and predicting dire consequences for the state’s economy. Sen. Curtis King (R) went so far as to suggest that the governor needs to “come clean” on the rule, claiming that Inslee planned to push it through without the participation of the Legislature.

Inslee fired back, calling the assertions “offensive” and accusing Republicans of fearmongering.

“I ask that the Senate negotiate a package among both caucuses that can garner a majority of votes in your chamber,” he wrote in a letter addressed to the leadership of both parties. “I would not expect you to pass a package on the Senate floor before having assurances the package could win sufficient House votes.”

Whether or not Inslee can gather the votes he needs will be decided this year, as the Legislature debates the rule over the coming weeks. The public comment period on the rule is open from now until May.