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

Will proposed Washington bill be a pain reliever at the pump?

By Kerri Sandaine Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – Washington state House Republicans unveiled a bill Monday that would send excess revenue collected under the state’s new carbon allowance auctions directly to drivers.

Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, told the Lewiston Tribune the proposed Carbon Auction Relief (CAR) program is aimed at giving money back to state residents who are experiencing “a lot of pain and strain at the gas pumps.”

If approved during the 2024 legislative session, registered vehicle owners would receive a $100 check – or up to $200 per family – in July.

Future payments could be larger based on how much surplus revenue the state accrues. For example, registered car owners could receive an annual check when they renew their vehicle tabs, depending on how much extra money flows into state coffers. The amount likely would range from $200 to $250, or up to $500 per family, Dye said.

“A check of $500 per family would help offset the pain on their budgets,” Dye said. “The No. 1 thing that’s making Washington voters angry right now is the high price of gas, which influences everything. The new green deal isn’t a good deal for us.”

Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, introduced the bill to help drivers impacted by the Climate Commitment Act passed by Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021 and the cap-and-trade program that went into effect Jan. 1.

Since then, the state’s program has raised about three times more revenue than anticipated and increased the cost of gasoline by about 50 cents to an average of $5 per gallon or more. This summer, Washington generally had the second-most expensive gas in the country, surpassed only by California.

“High gas prices are draining the budgets of those who can least afford it,” Connors said in a news release. “Many of my constituents have had to cut back on groceries, cancel family trips, or make other painful sacrifices. The CAR Payment program is about getting dollars back into their pockets.”

After the carbon cap program went into effect, Dye said Washington gas prices began to outpace Oregon’s, which used to be about the same. The difference between Idaho and Washington prices offer a “stark” contrast. Between the state’s gas tax and the Climate Commitment Act, Washington’s prices are about $1 higher than its neighboring state.

“I correctly predicted that when the governor’s bill was being debated,” Dye said.

The cap-and-trade program puts a price on carbon emissions, which the state hopes will motivate large industrial polluters, such as oil refineries and paper mills, to reduce emissions. Oil companies that buy emissions from the new carbon cap program are passing the cost to consumers at the pump. Connors’ bill would not affect the climate act or the carbon cap program.

Dye, the ranking member on the House Environment and Energy Committee, is backing the CAR program in hopes it will give drivers some relief from the increases.

“It’s your money,” Dye said. “It’s just not right that agencies and policymakers spend that money. This money needs to go back to the people who earned it.”

The next legislative session convenes Jan. 8 in Olympia.