If you don’t want gas prices to go up, let Olympia know this bill isn’t the answer

Energy 101 Biofuels

Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy and its national laboratories are finding new, more efficient ways to convert biomass into biofuels.
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Scientists and engineers at the U.S. Department of Energy and its national laboratories are finding new, more efficient ways to convert biomass into biofuels.

The fight against climate change in Olympia appears to be setting many urban and rural lawmakers on opposite sides of the battle, and we fear Eastern Washington may end up on the losing end.

While there are several carbon-reducing bills still alive in the Legislature, one in particular is a concern for Colin Hastings, executive director of the Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

He and Dana Bieber, of the Affordable Fuel Washington Coalition, met recently with the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board to discuss their anxiety over House Bill 1110, which would create a new clean-fuel standard for the state.

The measure attempts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by limiting the carbon intensity in traditional fuels like gasoline and diesel.

In order to comply, more biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel would have to be mixed with fossil-based fuels.

If there is not enough biofuel available to meet demand, then oil producers are expected to pay “credits” to clean-fuel companies like those that manufacture electric vehicles.

While we believe efforts to combat climate change can be workable, HB 1110 does not appear to be one of those measures.

Hastings called the bill an example of the “urban-rural divide” in our state. If approved, he said the measure will significantly increase the cost of gas, which will be more of a burden to those living in areas like the Tri-Cities where most people have to drive several miles just to get to work.

As it happens, the bill exempts fuel used for planes, rail and shipping vessels, so these wouldn’t have to share in the suffering. But farmers, trucking companies and many small businesses with thin profit margins wouldn’t be so lucky.

Beyond the private sector, lawmakers should consider how higher fuel costs will affect public entities like the Washington State Patrol, city fire departments, public transit services and school districts — especially those with large rural routes.

Hastings said it is possible citizens will be hit twice if this measure is approved — once at the pump and again when more taxes are needed to fund the added fuel costs of schools and state agencies.

The bill was approved with a 53-43 vote after hours of debate on the House floor (Tri-City area House members all voted against the measure), and this past week it made it out of the Senate Energy Environment Committee — so it appears to have momentum.

An amendment requiring a cost analysis of the bill by the Office of Financial Management was, unfortunately, shot down. We would like to see that condition brought up again before this bill goes any further.

Finding out the fiscal impact of HB 110 is reasonable, and it’s troubling there are lawmakers who don’t want that information.

Proponents of the measure say its approval will put us in line with California, Oregon and British Columbia, which all have adopted similar low carbon fuel standards.

Bieber notes, however, that new data by the California Energy Commission says the new program has added 16 cents to the gallon for gasoline and 16.6 cents a gallon for diesel.

In addition, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts costs will increase to 46 cents a gallon by 2030. Bieber said if this is the result in California, it’s sure to be the result in Washington if the bill is approved.

She called the program costly, unworkable and regressive, and said that those who least can afford an increase at the gas pump will suffer the most.

Washington already has the third highest gas tax in the country. We doubt citizens are eager to embrace a new low-carbon fuel standard if it means gas prices jump even more.