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Thursday, May 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Proposed low-carbon fuel standard draws praise, criticism

Pacific Coast Canola produces up to 120,000 gallons of oil daily at a crushing plant near Moses Lake.

Most of the heart-healthy oil is used for cooking, but some is sent to a refinery, where it’s turned into biodiesel and shipped to California.

If Washington adopted a low-carbon fuel standard like California’s, more of the state’s cars and trucks would run on energy produced in Washington, said Eileen Norton, the company’s project management director.

“We would love to see a robust supply chain that benefits farmers, benefits us and benefits Washington consumers,” Norton told Department of Ecology officials at a Monday night meeting in Spokane.

A small but engaged crowd turned out for the meeting on Washington’s proposed low-carbon fuel standard, which aims to cut carbon emissions from vehicles by 10 percent over the next decade. The proposed standard is part of a larger focus by Gov. Jay Inslee on reducing heat-trapping gases associated with climate change.

If the standard is adopted, fuel producers and exporters would be required to sell less-polluting fuels. Options could include blending gasoline or diesel with ethanol or biofuels or purchasing credits to offset carbon pollution.

In Washington, nearly half of the state’s carbon pollution comes from vehicles. There are two reasons for that, said Grant Pfeifer, the Ecology Department’s eastern regional director. Much of the state’s electricity comes from hydropower, as opposed to coal-fired plants, which lowers carbon contributions from electrical use. Geography and driving habits also play a role.

“We’re a pretty spread-out state. To get anywhere, you’ve got to drive a vehicle and drive a long way,” Pfeifer said. “To get from here to Wenatchee and back, you’d cross several states in the Northeast.”

Environmental groups support the adoption of a low-carbon fuel standard, which would add 10 cents to the cost of a gallon of gas by 2026, according to the state’s analysis.

“Whether you believe in climate change or not, there’s a lot of good that can be done,” said Simon Mui, fuels director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Reducing carbon emissions also reduces other air pollution, he said. And the standard would help spur investment in new fuel sources.

Washington consumers spend about $15 billion annually on gas and diesel products.

“All of our oil dollars go out of state,” said Ben Serrurier, a policy specialist with Climate Solutions in Seattle. “There’s enormous potential for clean fuel sources, and a lot of them are in Eastern Washington.”

But the proposal faces opposition from the Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group for oil and gas producers, refineries and sellers.

“We don’t think it’s the right tool to get greenhouse gas emissions out of the transportation sector,” Frank Holmes, the association’s director for Northwest issues, said in a phone interview. “It depends on a lot of complex pieces – the blending of biofuels into diesel and gas and buying (carbon offset) credits for alternative vehicles.”

Holmes said there’s not enough alternative fuel available to meet the proposed standard. The Washington proposal tracks the carbon generated from producing alternative fuels, which means that ethanol made in the Midwest with electricity from a coal-burning plant wouldn’t necessarily qualify as low-carbon fuel, he said.

The petroleum association also questions the state’s cost analysis of 10 cents per gallon. A consulting firm hired by the association to analyze California’s low-carbon fuel standard estimated it could eventually cost consumers $1 extra per gallon, Holmes said.

Climate change deniers also weighed in on the proposal, saying they didn’t see the need for policies to reduce carbon emissions.

“I’m a doubter. I don’t trust government and I don’t trust the Department of Ecology,” said Don Stone, a retired Cheney resident, who said he puts about 3,500 miles per year on his Subaru, and another 2,000 miles on a motor home.

Public comments on the proposed standard will be accepted through Wednesday. The Ecology Department will compile the responses, and send them to the governor’s office for review.

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