OLYMPIA — As Senate Democrats work on a bill to tax fossil fuels, some House Democrats are advancing legislation modeled after California’s and Oregon’s low-carbon fuel standards.
The Washington Farm Bureau lumps the two climate-change bills together, characterizing both as amounting to new energy taxes on farmers and ranchers.
“It’s like staring down a double-barrel shotgun,” Farm Bureau associate director of government relations Evan Sheffels said.
The proposals are the main climate-change bills pending at the Capitol. A third major climate-change policy, capping greenhouse emissions by manufacturers, was developed independently of the Legislature by Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration but is on hold pending the outcome of a legal challenge by the Farm Bureau and other groups.
Both bills in the Legislature face long odds. Democrats have thin margins in the House and Senate and can’t expect Republican votes. Still, the proposals have cleared policy committees for the first time.
Senate Bill 6203 has passed the Energy, Environment and Technology Committee. House Bill 2338 has passed the Environment and Transportation committees.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was at the Capitol on Tuesday to talk to House and Senate Democrats. Kerry told reporters that he planned to tell lawmakers to lead on climate change.
“I tell you, folks, this is vital for all of us,” he said. “Washington has an opportunity to lead here.”
Kerry said the economy can benefit from jobs created in the wind and solar industries. He praised the carbon tax bill in the Senate. “It’s really helpful to rural Washington,” he said. “It sets aside help for those folks in order to transition.”
SB 6203 calls for some tax revenue from a carbon tax to be spent on “rural economic development.” The state would provide grants for “low-carbon innovation,” for “increased affordable transportation options” and for “encouraging telecommuting by funding the expansion of broadband and telecommunications services.”
The tax would start at $10 per ton on carbon and increase to $30 by 2030. The purpose of the tax is to increase the cost of fossil fuels and encourage the substitution of renewable energy. The governor’s advisers estimate that at $10 per ton, the tax would increase gasoline prices by 9 cents a gallon. The tax would also raise electricity rates.
Rep. Joel Kretz, an Okanogan County Republican, said the tax would fall heavily on his rural constituents.
“Most of my folks are driving 30, 40, 60, 80, 100 miles to work,” he said. “It’s going to hammer rural parts of the state that already (have) low incomes and high unemployment.”
HB 2338 declares that electric vehicles and “clean transportation fuels are at the threshold of widespread commercial deployment.”
To help, the bill would direct the Department of Ecology to write a rule to cut greenhouse gases from vehicles. The rule’s goal would be to reduce carbon emissions from the production and combustion of transportation fuels by 10 percent by 2028. Ships, trains and airplanes would be exempt.
“We see it as a hidden carbon tax, or gas tax,” Sheffels said.
Dan Coyne, a lobbyist for the Northwest Agricultural Cooperative Council, told the House Transportation Committee that mandating more renewable fuels will affect production costs.
“Lowering the carbon intensity of fuel means a gallon of fuel will not harvest as much wheat or process as much grain as it does currently,” he said. “To compete in the world, we need to become more efficient over time, not less.”