Trucks loading

Trucks at a loading dock in Wapato, Wash. Washington legislators are debating a bill that is aimed at reducing carbon emissions from cars and trucks.

OLYMPIA — Agriculture figured prominently in a long debate in the House this week on whether to mandate more biofuels in gasoline and diesel fuel to resist climate change.

After 3 1/2 hours of debate, House Democrats passed a bill Tuesday directing the Department of Ecology to implement a low-carbon fuels program, similar to those in Oregon and California.

Fuel used in food production and logging would be exempt from the low-carbon standard. Democrats rejected Republican-sponsored amendments that would also exempt fuel used in processing and delivering food.

Republicans said the higher fuel costs will either cut into farmers' thin profits or raise the price of food or both. Rep. Tom Dent, R-Moses Lake, mentioned that he saw a lot of House members at lunch that day in a cafeteria.

"That food didn't just walk in the door," he said.

House Bill 1110 now goes to the Senate. The legislation is one of the main climate-change bills introduced this year by Democrats, who have strong majorities in the House and Senate.

The bill seeks to reduce the "carbon intensity" of vehicle transportation. Carbon intensity means the amount of greenhouse gas a particular type of fuel emits from production to combustion.

On-road gasoline and diesel fuel account for 30% of the greenhouse gases emitted in the state, according to the state Department of Ecology. The goal would be to reduce carbon intensity by 10% by 2028 and 20% by 2035.

In its seventh year, California's low-carbon fuels program adds 12 to 14 cents to a gallon of gasoline, according to a study last year by the Oil Price Information Service.

In its second year, Oregon's program added 0.23 cent to a gallon of gasoline and 0.31 cent per gallon to diesel in 2017, according to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The Oregon program is far from taking full effect. 

Republicans and Democrats sparred over whether a low-carbon fuels standard would raise gasoline prices a little or a lot. Although a government mandate to use more biofuels, the bill assumes the free-market will meet the supply at a reasonable cost.

"We have abundant farms and forests in this state that can provide the feedstock for that cleaner fuel," said House Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien.

Democrats rejected a Republican amendment to put the policy on the November ballot for a statewide vote.

"We have the opportunity to bend the curve on an existential threat to the future of our state and our world by passing this bill today," Fitzgibbon said.

"The risk to us and to all future generations of Washingtonians is accelerating. We cannot afford to delay."

Republicans, especially those from large rural districts in Eastern Washington, stressed the threat of higher gasoline and diesel prices to the pocketbooks of their constituents, whose livelihoods depend on moving goods over long distances.

"My district is predominantly agriculture, and this bill is going to affect everything and everybody in my district," Dent said. "Every time we impose something on our producers, it increases the cost of production, and the cost is born by the producer."


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