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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fuel mandate could be risky

Jeff Bosma

Washingtonians, without their knowledge, are at risk of becoming part of a dangerous state economic experiment.

At issue is the price of gasoline. Washington already has the highest gas prices in the lower 48 states, but a proposal being quietly floated by Gov. Jay Inslee could add well over $1 per gallon. The governor has indicated he wants to enforce this before the end of the year as part of an effort to curb emissions, and speculation is that he may do so outside of the Legislature, via an executive order.

It is important that the governor balance stewardship of the planet with the immediate concerns of nurturing our fragile economy. With the right balance we, as a state, can develop a smart and effective climate policy. We have done so in the past and we can do so again with balanced, realistic approaches.

What is at issue here is commonly referred to as a “low-carbon fuel standard” or “fuel mandate.” The proposal is modeled after a similar fuel mandate program in California, a plan set to go into effect this January. Washington should take advantage of the opportunity to observe the impacts on consumers and businesses there before we implement them here. In light of this news, pushing a fuel mandate through makes even less sense.

It’s worth noting our state is also in serious need of funding for our roads, highway, bridges and public transit. If the governor succeeds in pushing through a fuel mandate before any sort of transportation package can be voted on in Olympia, it could severely jeopardize any new transportation funding proposals because his fuel mandate would raise gas prices to levels unacceptable to consumers and businesses.

The reality is higher gas prices impact every person and every sector of our economy. And policies that have such far-reaching impact should not be developed behind closed doors. Instead, the governor needs to continue his efforts, but do so by working with the Legislature to find ways to reduce carbon emissions. This week, the governor’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Taskforce (CERT) released its report detailing ways to reach our carbon reduction goals. We should take time to digest their work and then allow our elected officials to debate and vote on subsequent laws as part of a public and transparent process. Proposals of such magnitude and impact deserve no less.

From an economic standpoint, Washington is finally starting to see positive trends in manufacturing, agriculture, construction and exports. A fuel mandate could unintentionally reverse that trend, and have a chilling effect on jobs, investment and revenue. The threat of higher gas prices in Washington could mean businesses would be drawn to other states, leaving already struggling families with more costs and less opportunities.

It is also important that our efforts on climate change have the desired impact. We must be able to justify the economic cost and make sure we do not disproportionately impact those who have fixed incomes and already spend a large amount of their income on fuel. This is, once again, another reason why a decision like this should be considered by the Legislature to ensure that all interests are represented.

If a fuel mandate is the proper method of reducing carbon emission, it should be able to withstand the scrutiny of a transparent process that considers how a policy will impact employers and their employees, families and consumers.

When it comes to a fuel mandate, let’s do the people’s business where the people can see it: in public.

Jeff Bosma is president of Fast Way Freight System Inc. in Spokane.