Comment: Clean fuel standard can aid climate, health and jobs

State legislation will reduce carbon emissions without a significant increase to gas prices.

By Dennis McLerran / For The Herald

In response to Dan Bartelheimer’s commentary (“Low-carbon fuel standard is too costly and won’t work,” The Herald, April 15), I’d like to set the record straight about House Bill 1091, the Clean Fuel Standard.

The bill is simple: it requires big oil companies to gradually increase the amount of renewable or other low-carbon fuels into the fuel they already sell; invest in clean transportation like electric vehicles and buses or through programs like direct customer rebates for the cleanest cars. The bill directly reduces harmful pollution and climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum.

This is not only important globally, but locally in Everett. In neighborhoods near the intersection of I-5 and U.S. 2, harmful pollutants from diesel fuel are 40 percent higher and overall particulate matter from petroleum fuels is 32 percent higher than the state average. Why does this matter? Because lung disease deaths in that area are nearly 40 percent higher than the state average, according to data from the state Department of Health.

The bill has already passed both chambers of the Legislature. Across the state, polling shows that proponents of the bill outnumber opponents by 2-1. In addition, nearly 80 percent of voters want the state to enact clean energy standards.

Claims that a similar clean fuel standard in California raised fuel prices and cost of living are simply not true. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) shows that fuel prices in California were 40 cents a gallon cheaper in 2019 than 2011 (when the policy took effect). Also, overall household spending on fuel was down by 16 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, renewable diesel has consistently tracked around 17 cents per gallon less than petroleum diesel in the last several years in California. And, in a published study, Consumer’s Union calculated that California households will save between $1,210 and $1,530 every year on transportation costs by 2030 with low -carbon fuels, clean car standards and other climate friendly policies.

HB 1091 is not a tax. As such, it is not intended to raise money for roads and bridges. Big oil companies decide whether or not to pass along costs of compliance, if any, to consumers. According to the Oil Price Information Service, big oil’s profit margins in the Puget Sound Region are 70 or more cents per gallon, the highest in the nation; so there’s room. After 11 years with a clean fuel standard, California retail prices track very closely with changes in crude oil costs. Impacts of the clean fuel standard on pump prices are indiscernible.

HB 1091 will also create jobs and economic development. The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance evaluated the economic benefit of hypothetical bio-refineries in Longview and Spokane and concluded that the Longview plant would create around 2,000 jobs in southwestern Washington, while the Spokane plant would create nearly 800 jobs in the eastern part of the state. We have investors waiting on adoption of a clean fuel standard to build new clean fuel refineries here including one just announced for Grays Harbor.

Growth comes not just from new renewable fuel companies, but also from the very same companies that are opposing clean fuel standards. In fact, Marathon has plans to convert an existing refinery in California for renewable fuels. Phillips 66 will produce 800 million gallons of renewable fuels per year at a reconfigured refinery in California. We have every reason to expect to see similar investment in our state with the passage of this bill.

Stated simply, clean fuel standards work and companion climate policies work. They reduce climate impacts from transportation, reduce air pollution, save households money overall and create new jobs. Our neighbors in Oregon, California and British Columbia already have comparable standards in place and they work exceedingly well.

The time has come to hold big oil companies accountable for the health and environmental harm that comes from their products. This will improve the health of their customers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create economic opportunities in all four corners of our state.

Dennis McLerran is the former administrator for Region 10 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and former executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

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