Clean fuels hearing

Washington state Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, looks up Jan. 16 in Olympia at a staff summary of a bill she introduced to mandate more renewable transportation fuels. Beside her, waiting to testify are, from left, Washington farmers Taylor Perrault, Kevin Dobbins and Mike Clayton.

OLYMPIA — Lowering the fossil-fuel content in gasoline and diesel will raise their transportation, equipment and labor costs, several farmers said during legislative hearings Jan. 16.

Clark County, Wash., farmer Kevin Dobbins said small engines need more maintenance if fueled by an ethanol-gasoline mix and that a mandate on fuel suppliers to mix in more non-fossil fuels would worsen the problem.

"It'd hammer it home. It'd be taking a wound and ripping it open," he said.

The Senate Environment, Energy and Technology Committee took testimony on a proposal to gradually reduce greenhouse gases from transportation fuels. California, Oregon and British Columbia have adopted low-carbon fuel standards to combat climate change. Gov. Jay Inslee is asking Washington lawmakers to follow their example.

Greenhouse gases from cars, trucks, vessels, trains and airplanes make up 45% of Washington's carbon output, more than any other sector of the economy.

Senate Bill 5412 would direct the Department of Ecology to oversee a program requiring fuel suppliers to reduce the "carbon intensity" of their products by 20% by 2035. A fuel's carbon intensity is measured by the amount of greenhouse gases generated in its production, distribution and consumption.

The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, said converting to low-carbon fuels will spur the development of renewable fuels and create jobs.

The fires in Australia dramatized the need to change how business is powered to fight climate change, she said.

"The way we fuel our economy is unsustainable," Saldana said.

The policy's influence on fuel prices would be expected to increase as the low-carbon standard was phased in.

California has the most-advanced program and is about halfway to full implementation. That state's Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that the low-carbon standard raised the cost of gasoline in 2018 by 13 cents a gallon. When fully in place in 2030, the standard could add 46 cents to a gallon, according to the analysis.

Eastern Washington tree fruit grower Ben Buchholz said a low-carbon mandate would raise the cost of moving fruit across the state to Seattle and Tacoma ports. "It would be a regressive gas tax without any of the money going to road projects," he said.

Workers who commute long distances would also take a hit, he said. "Our employees have to fill their cars," said Buchholz, who's executive director of the Northwest Agricultural Cooperative Council.

Taylor Perrault, the lead mechanic for his family's hop and blueberry farm in Toppenish, said the farm uses about 80,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.

The farm also tried ethanol in gas, but gave it up, he said. "We went to the non-ethanol gas and noticed that our repairs have been cut in almost half."

Some 98% of the gasoline in the U.S. contains ethanol, typically 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Most ethanol is made from corn and lowers carbon emissions. Fuel containing 15% ethanol should not be used in vehicles older than 2001 and may damage other gas-powered engines, according to the department.

The hearing was held shortly after the Washington Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Ecology overstepped its authority with its Clean Air Rule. The majority said there was an "undeniable crisis of climate change," but that the law didn't authorize Ecology to regulate the products of oil refineries and natural gas distributors. The Washington Farm Bureau was among the groups that challenged the rule.

Senate environment committee chairman Reuven Caryle, D-Seattle, said the decision highlighted the need for lawmakers to take charge on climate change.

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