Lawmakers and LCFS: ‘Let’s make a deal’

Lawmakers and LCFS: ‘Let’s make a deal’
A bill that would create a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) has cleared a Senate committee following the addition of an amendment requiring that a new transportation package must pass before the LCFS measure is implemented. Photo: freepik.com

In the ongoing push to implement a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), more than 30 House Democrats last week cosigned a letter stating that an LCFS proposal must be enacted before any future transportation package is approved.

Then, during a Feb. 25 executive session of the Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee, proponents of that approach appear to have offered Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs (D—44) a deal via an amendment that was added prior to voting in favor of ESSHB 1110 which would require that a transportation package must pass before an LCFS is implemented.

The vote came without a public hearing and follows the Feb. 20 letter to Hobbs and House Transportation Committee Chair Jake Fey (D-27) cosigned by bill sponsor Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) and 31 other House Democrats. What remains to be seen is whether the amendment will placate concerns over gas price increases due to the LCFS, when Hobbs is already planning a gas tax increase to pay for highway projects. If accepted, the bill would override an existing de facto deal made in the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package not to implement an LCFS program until 2023.

For the past year, Hobbs has been working on the 10-year Forward Washington transportation package to fund fish barrier removal projects, infrastructure improvements and highway preservation work. The proposal was first unveiled during the 2019 legislative session and a vote next year is anticipated. It is expected to include a gas tax increase along with either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade provision.

For the past three sessions state lawmakers have considered an LCFS  similar to the existing programs in California and Oregon. Under Fitzgibbon’s bill, the state Department of Ecology would set up a LCFS program by January 2021 with the aim of reducing carbon intensity in fuels to 10 percent below 2017 levels by 2028 and 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2035. Exempted fuels include those used for vessels, railroads and aircraft.

Although ESSHB 1110 cleared the House last year, it was unable to advance from the Senate Transportation Committee following a public hearing. One of the objections raised by stakeholders is that the LCFS will make a transportation budget more difficult to pass by raising gas prices.

Initially, estimates were based on the LCFS programs in California or Oregon, neither of which have been fully implemented. Last year the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency conducted an analysis of its regional proposal and concluded it might raise gas prices by $.57 per gallon – more than quadruple the gas tax increase to pay for the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation package.

Yet the Feb. 20 letter to Hobbs and Fey states: “we consider passage of a clean fuel standard as a precondition to the passage of a transportation revenue package. As urgent as our transportation infrastructure needs are, the climate crisis is also urgent.”

During the Feb. 25 executive session, an amendment proposed by Chair Reuven Carlyle (D-36) and incorporated into the bill delays implementation by a full year and requires that a transportation funding package be enacted first. That package must include at least $2 billion in new revenue for the motor vehicle fund and the multimodal transportation account. In addition, the package must fully fund the replacement of the I-5 Bridge spanning the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland as well as the US 2 trestle between Everett and Lake Stevens.

ESSHB has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee and is tentatively scheduled for a March 2 public hearing.

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