CHOKEPOINTS

Washington lawmakers begin to negotiate on increased gas tax, carbon fees

Jan 29, 2021, 8:27 AM | Updated: 9:08 am
Gas tax, carbon fee, Steve Hobbs...
State Sen. Steve Hobbs. (WA Senate Democrats)
(WA Senate Democrats)

How much will gas prices go up this year? Competing transportation plans in Olympia all include an increase, but the wildcard is what type of carbon emissions standard lawmakers choose.

WA Rep: Democrats’ gas taxes could be ‘rammed through this year’

While the state Senate hasn’t officially unveiled its plan, transportation committee chair Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens has put his ideas out there for discussion before finalizing a plan. It would be a 6 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax, and either a straight carbon emissions fee of $20 per metric ton of pollution, or a cap-and-invest system, which would set a cap on emissions and invest money raised by the trading of credits into transportation.

The state House plan calls for an 18 cent increase per gallon in the gas tax and an inflating carbon fee that could also add another 15 cent per gallon increase.

There are those in Olympia, including Gov. Jay Inslee, who also want to include a low carbon fuel standard, which would require our gas to be mixed with biofuels to reduce air pollution.

In a work session Thursday night, Sen. Hobbs made it clear that carbon fees are coming, one way or another.

“A good portion of the transportation package ‘Forward Washington’ is funded by carbon, simply because we all know that there is some form of carbon pricing system that we are eventually going to move to,” he said. “It’s good for the environment; it’s a way to fund transportation projects in the future.”

Most of those that testified, which included mayors, city councilmembers, trucking organizations, and climate activists, favor a straight carbon fee. Mike Ennis with the Association of Washington Business is not a fan of the low carbon fuel standard.

Why do Washington voters keep rejecting a carbon fee?

“The LCSF would raise the fuel prices between 20 and 60 cents a gallon, but provide no money for infrastructure improvements,” he said.

The LCFS did not have many fans at the hearing. Billy Wallace represents labor groups in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.

“It was promising to not see a low carbon fuel standard in this proposal,” he said. “This will be a hard enough package to get passed without adding a cost that does not provide significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, nor does it provide meaningful improvements in air quality.”

So now it’s time for the dance. Will the state House and Senate work together with the governor to get a transportation package passed, or will they get bogged down on their individual ideology?

Sen. Hobbs is hopeful.

“I believe strongly that the members of our committee, both Republican and Democrat, we can come together, and we can make something work for all Washingtonians,” he said.

The Senate draft is a 16-year, $18 billion package that funds some big ticket road projects, and throws a bunch of money at road preservation and maintenance. It also dedicates $3.5 billion for fish passage work. The House package also spans 16 years, with a slightly higher price tag of $26 billion.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.

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Washington lawmakers begin to negotiate on increased gas tax, carbon fees