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House passes LCFS bill amid concerns over cost, program effectiveness

House passes LCFS bill amid concerns over cost, program effectiveness

The State House passed 3SHB 1091 on Feb. 27 which would create a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS). The measure moved forward following hours of debate and a variety of technical amendments. Prior to the 52-46 vote, Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully sought to add several amendments, including one that would preserve a provision in the 2015 Connecting Washington transportation regarded as a de facto prohibition on an LCFS prior to 2023; if an LCFS is adopted before 2023, certain transportation revenue currently directed toward various programs would be withdrawn. 3SHB 1091 repeals this section of the Connecting Washington legislation.

“A deal is a deal,” Rep. Andrew Barkis (R-2) said. “It’s important that if that was the intent…we must remember that, as we move forward and start talking about future transportation packages.”

However, House Transportation Chair Jake Fey (D-27) argued that the provision in question was added to prevent Governor Jay Inslee from imposing an LCFS program through an executive order, as he attempted to do with a clean air rule that was eventually overturned by the State Supreme Court.

“We put the poison pill into the bill because we wanted to get a transportation package, and we agreed that that administrative action was really not appropriate,” Fey said of the proposed amendment. “It needed to be a legislative action, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Stripping transportation revenue protection from state law has been just one of many issues raised by critics of an LCFS, along with concerns about the costs and effectiveness of the program. Under 3SHB 1091, fuel providers would have to reduce carbon intensity in their fuels twice as fast as entities subject to California’s LCFS program.

Entities providing fuel above that threshold would have to buy credits from entities offering fuel below those carbon levels. A variety of fuel types are exempt from the program, such as transportation fuel exported or not used in the state and fuel used for aviation or trains.

The technical amendments successfully incorporated into the bill include:

  • A requirement that the Department of Ecology LCFS program rules allow credits to be generated for broadband infrastructure expansion;
  • Authorization for nonprofit and public entities to earn credits under the LCFS program from the fueling of battery or fuel cell electric vehicles; and
  • Authorizing the LCFS program to let gaseous and liquid fuels from non-fossil feedstocks and derivatives generate credits.

Bill sponsor Environment & Energy Committee Chair Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34) told colleagues “we owe it to future generations to protect the climate, improve our air quality, and create jobs in the biofuels industry. Let this be the year to say ‘we took action, and along the way we created new jobs – good jobs in our farms and forests. Along the way we reduced air contaminants that harm human health, particularly in communities near highways and roadways.’”

While supporters view the program as a way to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector, which composes half of the state’s total greenhouse gases (GHG), detractors have questioned the supposed benefits. A 2019 analysis conducted by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) found that a regional LCFS could raise gas prices by $.57 per gallon, with no noticeable improvements in particulate matter.

Also, a 2018 report by California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) found that with the state’s LCFS program “most or all of the costs of purchasing credits and allowances are likely passed on to fuel consumers in the form of higher retail prices.” The report estimates the program could add a total of $.46 to the price of fuel per gallon by 2030.

 The PSCAA analysis was also silent on the potential reduction in GHG emissions. The agency scrapped its plans for a regional program in anticipation of a statewide proposal introduced last year which also cleared the state House but failed to advance past the Senate Transportation Committee.

House Environment and Energy Commit Ranking Minority Member Mary Dye (R-9) said in a statement that 3SHB 1091 “is a costly, regressive policy that will especially hurt low-income people across our state. And it does not generate one dime of revenue for any transportation infrastructure in Washington. Hopefully, it can be stopped in the Senate.”

3SHB 1091 has not yet been assigned to a Senate committee.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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