Low carbon fuel standard is bad policy

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category icon Columns, Opinion
Rep. Liz Pike

We all want a cleaner environment in which to live, work and pass on to our children and grandchildren. We’re making great progress here in Washington. Employers are investing millions of dollars in new and innovative technologies that reduce their carbon footprint, including converting their vehicle fleets to cleaner burning alternative fuels.

Families are making similar choices. They’re purchasing hybrid and electric cars, rethinking their driving habits, and updating their homes to become more energy-efficient.

Together, we have made Washington the eighth cleanest state in the nation in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, and seventh cleanest in carbon dioxide emissions per gross domestic product.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to go further by implementing a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), a fuel policy designed to reduce carbon in transportation fuels. Given Washington’s demonstrated commitment to carbon reduction, Gov. Inslee’s idea might sound like good policy. It’s not.

First, the LCFS would increase fuel costs for every motorist and truck driver in Washington. And that would boost costs on business and the price of food and goods. You would pay considerably more to feed and clothe your family.

Inslee claims the LCFS would only cost a couple cents per gallon. But his argument is based on questionable assumptions, such as consumers spending more than $1 billion to buy alternative fuel vehicles, or that three cellulosic ethanol plants — at a hefty $500 million each — would be built in Washington in the next few years, even though none are proposed or permitted, much less under construction.

More realistic cost estimates come in much higher. A report to the governor’s Climate and Executive Workgroup (CLEW) last year estimated an LCFS would cost up to $1.17 per gallon. And the National Bureau of Economic Research indicates the cost could even be between $3 and $22 a gallon. This is far more than the governor’s ultra-conservative estimate of pennies a gallon.

In fact, an analysis conducted for CLEW concluded the LCFS is one of the most expensive carbon reduction strategies being considered.

LCFS-driven fuel costs would come on top of a potential increase in the gas tax being considered in Olympia for transportation projects.

At a time when much of the state is just now seeing signs of economic recovery, the LCFS would put added pressure on family budgets and make Washington companies less competitive. The National Federation of Independent Businesses estimates it could cost Washington 11,000 jobs.

There are also legitimate questions of whether the LCFS is achievable. Compliance in the early years would involve blending conventional fuels with alternative fuel stocks, along with massive consumer investment and/or public subsidies. That would be challenging enough. However, later-year compliance is infeasible because sufficient quantities of low carbon fuels won’t be available in commercial quantities in the proposed timeframe.

Major new policies should only be undertaken after having undergone thorough review and informed debate within the legislative arena. But Gov. Inslee insists that he has the authority to bypass the Legislature and unilaterally impose the LCFS through executive order. Doing so would saddle our state with a costly and impractical regulatory structure that would increase fuel costs, threaten economic recovery and hinder job creation for years to come.

Let’s face it — Washington is already a clean state. The fact is, we could get rid of every person, car, boat, train, jet, military vehicle, and cow in our state and still not have a meaningful impact (less than three-tenths of one percent) on global carbon emissions. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to reduce our state’s carbon footprint. But we should not force people to pay more while doing nothing meaningful for the environment.

There are better, more incentive-driven approaches to carbon reduction for our state. Rather than betting on the governor’s costly feel-good scheme, we should reward employers and families for making good decisions and good investments that are already showing results.

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, represents the 18th Legislative District. She serves on the House Transportation Committee, Environment Committee and Local Government Committee. She can be reached at (360) 786-7812 or via email at