Comment: Low-carbon fuel standard is too costly and won’t work

Similar standards in California and Oregon have increased fuel prices but haven’t reduced emissions.

By Dan Bartleheimer / For The Herald

In the midst of the greatest economic downturn of our time, state lawmakers are pursuing legislation that would significantly increase fuel costs for Snohomish County families, farmers and businesses.

In addition to a proposed gas tax increase and a carbon fee, legislators are once again considering a low-carbon fuel standard that would substantially increase the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel. Despite staggering costs, little would be gained in return: for workers, families, our county’s crumbling transportation infrastructure or the environment.

For those of us living here in Snohomish County, who grow the crops, who travel our highways and want to work on projects improving U.S. 2 and the Snohomish River trestle, there has to be a more sensible way.

A low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) would effectively tax higher carbon fuels like gasoline and diesel and subsidize lower carbon fuels like biofuels. Gov. Jay Inslee and those in favor of the LCFS point to California and Oregon — the only states with this mandate — to highlight benefits, but their claims are simply not supported by the data.

According to industry data, the LCFS is currently adding 24 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline in California and it is only partially implemented. That state’s own Legislative Analyst’s Office has concluded the LCFS is ten times more costly than alternative carbon reduction policies.

In Washington, research suggests those added fuel costs could be even higher. A study conducted on a proposed Puget Sound regional LCFS found that an LCFS could add up to 57 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline and 63 cents to diesel by 2030. In addition, consumers and businesses would have to spend upwards of $2 billion for new electric vehicles, fuel tanks for new biofuel blends and charging stations.

Estimates show the added fuel costs alone could total about $900 per household per year. For those driving longer distances to work, costs would be even greater.

Even more concerning, analysis shows that like California and Oregon, more than 70 percent of LCFS compliance costs paid by Washington consumers in the form of higher fuel costs would likely go to fuel producers in other states or countries. If this costly mandate is adopted in Washington, an estimated $400 million a year in LCFS compliance dollars would likely leave our state. This would likely not spur meaningful job creation or develop an expansive alternative fuel industry here at home.

Also troubling, despite increasing fuel costs, not one penny would go toward improving our crumbling transportation infrastructure or to provide money for our state’s budget deficit. The money won’t go to road improvements between Monroe or Sultan. There would be no funds for roads, bridges, restoration of salmon-blocking culverts or stormwater cleanup.

Washington and Snohomish County voters have consistently re-affirmed that higher gasoline costs should be directly tied to transportation infrastructure improvements, not mandates with potentially damaging economic consequences. We should offer state Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens some thanks here. As chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, he has consistently questioned a LCFS’s value, and gotten heavy pushback for his sensible stand.

As for the environment, the data from the California Air Resources Board does not support claims that an LCFS would substantially improve air quality or significantly reduce emissions contributing to climate change.

Given current economic conditions, Washingtonians cannot afford the higher fuel costs of an LCFS — estimated at $1.3 billion a year by 2028 — with no value offered in return.

We urge you to contact your legislators to oppose HB 1091, a costly and ineffective fuel mandate in Washington state; and Snohomish County, too.

Dan Bartelheimer is president of the Snohomish County Farm Bureau.

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