The last six years have been the hottest ever recorded. It’s only getting hotter.
We’ve heard the roar of climate change from afar, but now it’s in our backyards. Each summer, wildfires rip across the Pacific Northwest with smoke thick enough that for several days in 2018, we had the worst air quality in the world. Glaciers in the North Cascades are rapidly melting, and rising ocean temperatures are pushing our orcas and salmon to the brink of extinction.
Globally, we’re seeing more of the extreme weather events that scientists have long predicted climate change would bring — Australia’s devastating wildfire season is only the most recent example.
Last year, Washington state passed remarkable clean-energy legislation, but the next step we must take is reducing our transportation emissions. This session, we’re looking at two pieces of legislation to do that. HB 1110 is a step that our neighbors in Oregon, California and British Columbia have already taken, and would set emission standards for transportation fuels. Another option, HB 2892, would empower the Department of Ecology to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from distributed fuels like oil and gas.
The transportation sector accounts for about 45% of Washington’s emissions. In neighboring states, clean-fuel standards have successfully incentivized electricity, renewable natural gas, biodiesel from canola oil or ethanol from forestry waste.
Opponents, led by the oil industry, have tried to scare legislators and the public with dishonest statistics about how this would impact gas prices. But the facts show otherwise.
Fuel prices are volatile and influenced far more by geopolitics and market fluctuations than any air-pollution standard — for example, California’s gas prices are 40 cents lower now than before their standard was implemented. Oregon’s gas prices are much lower than Washington’s, and their clean-fuel standard has reduced pollution as much as taking 200,000 cars off the road. The oil industry makes bigger profits on a gallon of gas in Washington than anywhere else in the country. That’s one reason it fights so hard against policies that would require it to move toward cleaner fuels in our state.
Right now, legislators are keenly focused on addressing budget holes in transportation funding created by the passage of Initiative 976. This includes replacing culverts blocking fish migration, as well as aging bridges and ferries.
A clean-fuel standard is a necessary companion for this work. We cannot address transportation without addressing the environmental harm transportation fuels cause.
In 2019, a clean-fuel standard passed out of the House but died in the Senate. This year, it passed the House early, and a growing coalition is making the case for the transportation-focused Senate to make progress on both fronts.
This includes businesses like Alaska Airlines, that, along with the Port of Seattle, see it as necessary to grow the emerging aviation biofuel sector and reduce air-traffic pollution.
As impacts of climate change become more tangible, Washingtonians are leaning harder on the Legislature to act boldly. A January Crosscut/Elway poll showed that 66% of Washingtonians want the Legislature to “require makers of gasoline and other fuels to reduce carbon emissions.” The same poll showed climate change as a priority this session.
A recent state Supreme Court decision prompted another important piece of legislation. The court ruled 5-4 that the state Clean Air Act only allows the Department of Ecology to regulate large stationary emitters, like oil refineries and power plants. This excludes distributors of fossil fuels like oil and natural gas that are a much larger source of emissions.
The decision said that “If the State of Washington wishes to expand the definition of emission standards to encompass ‘indirect emitters,’ the Legislature will say so.”
With HB 2892, we’re saying so.
Altogether, this ambitious agenda comes not a minute to soon, nor too late, for it to make a meaningful impact. We’ve all heard the proverb that “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second-best time is now.”
We don’t have a year to spare in addressing the climate crisis. The best time is now.