OLYMPIA — Washington House Democrats are again moving to adopt a low-carbon fuel standard, and farm groups continue to be among those pushing back.
The policy requires gasoline and diesel to have more alternative fuels such as ethanol and renewable diesel. Supporters say the mandate fights climate change and creates markets for farmers.
Northwest Agricultural Cooperative Council executive director Ben Buchholz said Tuesday that Midwest corn farmers or Brazilian sugarcane growers will benefit, while Washington farmers will pay more for fuel.
“Our increased fuel costs will be sent to the farmers in those areas,” Buchholz told the House Transportation Committee.
California, Oregon and British Columbia have low-carbon fuel standards, intended to cut carbon emissions attributable to on-road vehicles.
The House has approved the policy in previous sessions, but not the Senate. For Senate Democrats, the standard’s drawback has been that it may push up pump prices, but no money flows to the state.
Renewable fuel makers and the suppliers of their raw material would profit. Bill supporters say embracing a low-carbon fuel standard will lead to more alternative fuels being produced in Washington.
Food Northwest lobbyist Dan Coyne told the committee that the state’s record suggests otherwise.
“While farmers in Iowa, Brazil or Canada may receive financial benefits, Washington farmers are almost entirely bypassed because Washington state cannot get out of its own way to efficiently permit new renewable fuel facilities,” he said.
Most recently, Phillips 66 and Renewable Energy Group canceled plans a year ago to build in northwest Washington what they said would be the largest renewable diesel refinery on the West Coast.
The companies planned to refine soy oil, used cooking oil, animal fats, canola oil and inedible corn oil at a new plant next to the Phillips oil refinery near Ferndale.
The low-carbon fuel would be like taking 450,000 passenger cars off the road, the companies said.
Citing delays in getting permits, the companies dropped the project five days after the Department of Ecology and Whatcom County announced the refinery would likely have significant adverse environmental consequences.
Ecology said the project would be subjected to a lengthy study. The department said it was concerned about ship traffic, wetlands and greenhouse gas emissions.
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, who has repeatedly introduced the low-carbon fuel standard, said he agreed that “it is too difficult to site clean energy facilities in Washington state now.”
Fitzgibbon, chairman of the House Environment and Energy Committee, said lawmakers should streamline permits and pass the low-carbon fuel standard, contained this year in House Bill 1091.
“Climate change is not waiting for us,” he said. “We need to move more quickly than we have.”
HB 1091 exempts from the low-carbon standard fuel used on farms, as well as in aircraft, vessels, trains and equipment to move logs in the woods.
Farm groups say it would increase the cost of moving products and equipment on highways. Dozens of log truck drivers came to Olympia last year to testify against the bill. This year, the Capitol Campus is closed because of the pandemic.
On-road consumption of gasoline and diesel accounts for about 30% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Ecology.
The bill would require the “carbon intensity” of transportation fuels to be 10% less by 2028 and 20% by 2036.
To determine a fuel’s carbon intensity, Ecology would assess the volume of greenhouse gases emitted as the fuel was produced, transported and used.
The policy’s long-term effect on greenhouse gas emissions and pump prices is speculative.
The U.S. Department of Energy in October reported that renewable diesel in California cost $3.06 a gallon, compared to $3.30 a gallon for diesel.
Washington lawmakers also are considering raising the gas tax and implementing new carbon taxes.