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Clean fuel standard bill headed to Washington House floor

Supporters say a clean fuel standard is needed to fight climate change -- but opponents say it will drive up gas prices. (AP)

Once again, there’s a movement in the state Legislature for a clean fuel standard — and after a narrow pass by the House Appropriations Committee, it’s headed to the House floor.

The House passed a clean fuel standard each year for the past two sessions, but it didn’t make it through the Senate.

This year, House Bill 1091 would require fuel companies to reduce the carbon in their gas by 10% by 2028, and by 20% by 2035. This is specifically for fuel used on the road; fuel for trains, airplanes, and boats would be exempt.

The Department of Ecology would adopt rules by 2022 to extend carbon standards through 2050, and it would report to the Legislature on the measure’s progress.

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Supporters say it will help fight climate change, make the air healthier for residents, and benefit the local economy by causing investments in clean energy in Washington.

“The state is already experiencing devastating consequences from climate change, as well as the health effects — from asthma, extreme heat-related illness, smoke pollution, and mental health stress,” said spokesperson Robyn Rothman with the Washington Health Care Climate Alliance, a group of local health organizations working to stop climate change.

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Seattle) pointed to the natural disasters in Washington state in recent years, such as wildfires, floods, and landslides.

“Our constituents will be better off when we have fewer extreme weather events driven by climate change, caused by our excessive use of fossil fuels for energy,” he said.

The Department of Ecology said transportation is challenging to regulate because of the sheer number of drivers in the state.

“Transportation is the largest source of both air pollution and greenhouse gases in Washington,” said Joel Creswell, climate policy section manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology. “It is absolutely critical to address transportation emissions if we are to meet our statutory greenhouse gas limits.”

But opponents say it will be felt in drivers’ wallets because it will drive up gas prices. They argue that this is regressive because people who cannot afford to live in cities must commute the farthest for work.

“As we put more constraints on that [fuel] market, those prices will go up, and what it means is that your average-day working person in Washington state is going to have to pay more,” said Rep. Mary Dye (R-Pomeroy). “It’s going to cost them more to get to work, it’s going to cost them more to do what they enjoy, and their daily needs.”

She said she supported climate change efforts that did not make things more expensive for middle- and low-income Washingtonians.

Those whose work consists of driving say they would especially feel any increases.

“A low-carbon fuel standard would add an additional regressive tax on our members, who are constantly dispatched to different job sites,” said Billy Wallace, political and legislative director for the Washington/Northern Idaho District Council of Laborers.

Several people from the Eastern Washington farming community testified at a hearing last week that the increase would hit their bottom line, at a time when they are already struggling due to the pandemic.

“This bill is tone-deaf to small businesses like ours that are struggling now more than ever,” said Vicki Malloy, Malaga orchard and pollen service owner. “My husband and I travel thousands of miles throughout North-Central Washington, applying pollen to our customer orchards.”

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