Opinion

Dan Dunne: Don’t let feds roll back efficient car standards

Smoke has blanketed the air around Spokane over the past few weeks, as wildfires burn all around us. Protracted fire seasons are the new normal in the Inland Northwest: climate change has brought drier than normal summers and high temperatures. What can we do to protect the air we need to breathe?

Unfortunately, one of the most effective tools we have to reduce air pollution here in Washington and nationally is at risk. The Trump administration is proposing to roll back the nation’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. This move would increase pollution from cars while raising costs for drivers here in our state and around the country. This means more dirty air and less money for working families. Motor vehicle exhaust is Washington’s biggest source of harmful air emissions and our largest contribution to climate pollution. Since the current federal standards took effect in 2012, Spokane County drivers have saved over $110 million in lower fuel costs. Without these standards in place, this enormous sum of money would have gone into drivers’ gas tanks, and straight to out-of-state oil companies, rather than stay in our local economy.

In addition to rolling back the highly effective national standards, the current administration is attacking states’ rights to establish pollution limits on vehicles. In 2005, Washington passed a landmark Clean Car Law to become one of the now 13 states that have adopted California’s tailpipe emissions standards. Taking away this right is an all-out assault on the Clean Air Act, and a threat to our state’s right and responsibility to protect the health and well-being of Washingtonians.

Washington elected officials must loudly oppose the current administration’s proposal during the public comment period which is now underway. While the attack on states’ rights is sure to be challenged in court, we can safeguard our communities by finding ways to enhance Washingtonians’ access to clean vehicles like zero emission vehicles (ZEVs), including hybrid and all-electric cars.

Long ago, Thomas Edison declared electric vehicles (EVs) were superior technology to their internal combustion counterparts. There are now several automobiles for sale which demonstrate that truth. Unfortunately, many of them are not for sale in Washington state. I call on Gov. Jay Inslee to lead a campaign in the state Legislature next January to pass legislation to incorporate the ZEV mandate which was left out of the 2005 Clean Car Law. Nine other “Section 177 ZEV States” – including Oregon and California – have this mandate which incentivizes automakers to make available for sale a rising percentage of ZEVs in their fleet, reaching 8 percent by 2025.

In advocating for this policy, I predict that Gov. Inslee will have familiar allies such as climate advocates and health professionals, but also now consumer advocates who recognize that car buyers in Washington state should have access to the innovative and exciting new cars which buyers in California, Oregon and other ZEV-mandate states are able to buy. Car showrooms in the nine states with ZEV mandate have access to all kinds of electric vehicles, including SUVs and crossovers. Many of them have 200+ mile ranges. Washingtonians deserve access to these leading-technology vehicles as well.

A push for more ZEVs could also mobilize Washington’s workers employed in good-paying, future-proof, clean-car industry jobs. Organized labor groups like the United Steelworkers oppose Trump’s rollback because of concern for losing jobs in making innovative vehicles to China and Europe where public health laws demand that they be sold. As the rest of the world realizes the future of transportation is electric, we can’t let the United States fall behind in technology and infrastructure.

Eastern Washington is already providing a path forward by creating access to infrastructure and charging stations. Avista is currently implementing a $3 million program to build charging infrastructure across its service area. I’m proud that the city of Liberty Lake partnered with Avista on provisioning public charging stations in the city’s public parks. Avista’s residential and business customers can get rebates for installing chargers in their homes and businesses. Washington’s last major transportation bill created a fund for building fast-charging stations along I-82, I-90, and U.S. 395. Plus, Washington state will soon unveil its plan to spend $16.8 million on electric charging stations with its share of the Volkswagen dieselgate settlement funds. There is now considerable resources for EV charging in Washington – effectively resolving “range anxiety” for many drivers.

Contrary to the Trump administration’s claim, clean cars aren’t cost prohibitive – they save money for working families. Drivers experience fuel cost savings in the first month of ownership. Cleaner gas engines burn less fuel than dirty gas-guzzlers. All-electric engines require the least energy per mile. Thanks to Washington’s clean and abundant hydroelectric power, running an EV on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas costs nearly four times less.

The visionary Edison was correct. EVs are superior. I urge Gov. Inslee to respond to the federal assault on cleaner cars by ensuring Washington has a business environment that draws on the imagination of inventors like Edison and keeps Washington’s vehicles on the cutting edge of technology.

Dan Dunne

City Council Member

City of Liberty Lake