OLYMPIA — As the session nears an end, a climate-change bill that would give the Washington Department of Ecology the power to adopt a low-carbon fuel standard and regulate "indirect" emissions, such as from tailpipes and natural gas fireplaces, remains alive.
House Bill 2957 authorizes Ecology to impose two policies that haven't passed the Legislature this year. The lack of lawmaker oversight makes the bill "far worse" than the low-carbon fuel bill that Timber Unity rallied against last week, according to the Washington Farm Bureau.
The bill's prime sponsor, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, said at a hearing that his bill probably wouldn't be necessary if the Senate had followed the House and passed a low-carbon fuel standard to mandate more alternative fuels in gasoline and diesel.
"Since it didn't, we still have to address pollution from transportation fuels and a low-carbon fuel standard is a tried-and-true method," he said.
The bill also counters a state Supreme Court decision that struck down the Inslee administration's Clean Air Rule. The court ruled Ecology didn't have legislative authority to hold petroleum and natural gas suppliers accountable for emissions by their customers.
A low-carbon fuel standard and Clean Air Rule would be eliminated if a carbon tax or cap-and-trade "has been enacted," according to the bill. The bill does not specify whether the Legislature or Ecology would write those policies.
Todd Myers, environmental policy analyst for the conservative Washington Policy Center, said the bill opens the way for the executive branch to adopt climate-change polices that have been repeatedly rejected by lawmakers and voters.
"It's definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing," he said. "I think they're intentionally downplaying how radical this could be."
The bill was introduced, heard and endorsed by Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee on March 2, the same day that log truck drivers, organized by Timber Unity and the Farm Bureau, convoyed to Olympia to testify against a low-carbon fuel bill.
Hearings on the bills were at the same time, but in different committees. Farm Bureau assistant director of government relations Breanne Elsey said the timing made it difficult for farmers and loggers to testify on HB 2957. "It's dirty pool in and of itself," she said.
Western States Petroleum Association lobbyist Greg Hanon told the Appropriations Committee the bill is "much broader" than restoring the Clean Air Rule.
"It would be difficult to overstate the impact this bill will have on Washington's energy-producing industries, as well as on consumers," Hanon said.
House Democrats on the committee rejected amendments by Republicans to bar Ecology from using the bill as authority to set a low-carbon fuel standard. Oregon and California already have adopted the policy.
Other amendments would have shielded agriculture, rural counties and the aerospace and wood-products industries from higher fuel prices. Republicans plan to re-propose several of the amendments if the bill comes up for a vote in the House.
Fitzgibbon said he believes the state's economy can thrive on clean energy and that lawmakers shouldn't let speculation about rising fuel costs to stop the bill. "The bad news about climate change is the atmosphere doesn't care," he said.