Swallowing this ‘pill’ is too costly

Gov. Jay Inslee is said to be weighing whether to take the dare and swallow what’s been dubbed the “poison pill” that Republicans inserted into the $16.2 billion transportation package to dissuade him from moving forward with one of his key environmental proposals.

Along with a carbon cap-and-trade proposal, which found no foothold during the legislative session, Inslee wanted to begin the process for a proposed rule that would have established a low-carbon fuel standard, a 10 percent reduction over 10 years in the amount of emitted carbon from vehicle fuels.

Inslee currently is on a listening tour, talking with legislators, business and environmental groups and local officials about whether he should move ahead with the fuel standard rule.

We’ll add our voice to the mix: Mr. Governor, don’t swallow the pill.

We previously supported both the carbon tax and the low-carbon fuels standard in editorials. Oregon and California have enacted such rules and we should join them. We are dubious of claims from opponents that it would add $1 or more to the cost of a gallon of gas. The state Office of Financial Management estimated that the lower-carbon standard would add 2 cents a gallon in 2020, increasing to 10 cents by 2026.

And we were critical of the maneuver by Republicans to use this procedure to force the governor’s hand. Opponents of the rule had better avenues of opposition than holding public transportation funding hostage. It tarnishes what otherwise is a stellar package that Republicans and Democrats ought to be proud of. Those opinions have not changed.

But swallowing the pill comes at too great a cost, particularly for programs that also have value for the environment and our communities. The poison pill threatens to pull back more than $1.1 billion in funding for what are inelegantly called multi-modal transportation projects, spending that would support public transit grants, some state ferries funding, money for counties and cities, the state’s rail program and even bike paths and sidewalks for neighborhoods and school kids. More than $150 million is designated for a program called Complete Streets that seeks to make communities’ main streets accessible to pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles and freight. That money would instead be diverted to road projects.

Democrats could have demanded the threat be removed in exchange for their support of the transportation bills. Gov. Inslee could have forced the issue earlier with a promise to veto the transportation package unless the threat was removed. But he and his fellow Democrats recognized the importance of the overall transportation budget, which was passed and signed into law.

The governor should not give up on either of his environmental proposals. We would hope Gov. Inslee would use the next year to advocate and educate to build public support that could influence opponents and allow the rule to proceed and win passage of the carbon tax in the Legislature.

This is more than a climate change issue. We need to reduce carbon and other pollutants in the air that we breathe to protect our health and that of our children.

A low-carbon fuel standard would help, but not if it comes with the loss of worthwhile programs we’ve already secured.

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