OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee’s agenda for the 2020 legislative session includes a low-carbon fuel standard, which effectively taxes fossil fuels and subsidizes renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.
California adopted the policy in 2010, and it has increased the price of gasoline and diesel, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. The standard would not apply to fuel burned by farm equipment, but Washington farm groups warn that growers’ transportation costs would still rise.
“You can’t download food over the internet,” Washington State Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said.
The Legislature will convene Jan. 13 for a 60-day session, a follow-up to the longer 2019 session. Lawmakers will adjust the two-year spending plans they passed last year, and consider new bills and holdover proposals.
The low-carbon fuel standard is a holdover. The House passed a bill last year, but the Senate did not. Inslee said lawmakers should approve it this year and get more ambitious about cutting carbon emissions.
“The fact is, despite our significant efforts we are well, well short of doing what is necessary to protect Washingtonians from the scourge of climate change,” Inslee said. “The clean-fuel standard is one of the most important tools in our tool box in defeating climate change.”
In addition to California, Oregon and British Columbia have adopted low-carbon fuel standards. Fuel suppliers are required to gradually cut the “carbon intensity” of their fuel. Regulators rate carbon intensity by the greenhouse gases emitted during the fuel’s production, storage, transportation and combustion.
California has the oldest program and provides the model for Oregon and Washington. California’s Air Resources Board estimated last year that the standard will cut greenhouse gas emissions by a total of 97 million metric tons between 2019 and 2030. California emitted 424.1 million metric tons in 2017.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that the low-carbon standard raised the cost of gasoline in 2018 by 13 cents a gallon. The policy will take full effect in 2030. By then, the standard, if unchanged, would add 46 cents to a gallon, according to the analysis.
The bill passed by Washington’s House last year would have the same final low-carbon standard as California’s, though not until 2035.
“In an industry that cannot adjust their prices to match increases in input costs, a change like this would be crippling,” said Bre Elsey, associate director of government relations for the Washington Farm Bureau.
According to the bill passed by the House, fuel suppliers could meet their low-carbon obligations by paying an “alternative assessment.” The assessment could increase state government revenue by $48 million to $193 million during the policy’s first full year, according to the Department of Revenue.
Democrats will again control both chambers. The House will have a new speaker. Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, has been designated by Democrats to replace Seattle legislator Frank Chopp.
Last year’s session was marked by a proposal to tax farmers who hire seasonal foreign workers and a bill that implied Washington farmers could be guilty of slavery.
The tax proposal led to a task force on farm labor that’s still meeting and won’t have recommendations for the 2020 session.
If lawmakers are concerned about forced labor, they should broaden their view to other industries, DeVaney said. “It’s something we should be watching for and doing something to interrupt and prevent, but it’s not exclusively tied to agriculture.”