Citing the need to fully protect public health and the environment, last week, a bipartisan group of six former U.S. EPA administrators published a letter calling for a national low carbon fuel standard. The group includes Lee Thomas (Reagan), William Reilly (H.W. Bush), Carol Browner (Clinton), Christine Todd Whitman (W. Bush), Lisa Jackson (Obama), and Gina McCarthy (Obama).
The letter was signed under the aegis of the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), the organization launched in January 2017 to harness the expertise of over 500 former EPA career staff and confirmation-level appointees from multiple administrations. Its mission is to provide an informed and rigorous defense against efforts to undermine the agency’s mission during the Trump administration.
The open letter was accompanied by a report, “Resetting the Course of the EPA,” which contained 17 detailed papers on topics ranging from restoring science as the backbone of EPA decision-making to reducing air and water pollution.
EPN’s paper on “Reducing Air Emissions from Mobile Sources” urged the agency to closely examine the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program and consider potential changes to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the use of renewable fuels.
The group also urged the EPA to consider adopting a federal Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) in addition to the RFS. Why? It would be easier to achieve some cost-effective reductions by forcing producers of high-intensity carbon fuels to purchase credits in a system that rewards fuel makers who reduce their GHG emissions.
The national LCFS proposal is based on current state-level clean fuel measures passed in California and Oregon that have shown significant drops in CO2 emissions from cars, trucks, and planes while spurring billions of dollars in investment with little to no increase in gas prices to consumers. In fact, gas prices are 40¢ LOWER per gallon in California compared to when the LCFS was implemented in 2011.
Washington could see significant benefits as well if it becomes the third state with a clean fuel standard. For an estimated penny per gallon at the pump, drivers could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 80% while improving air quality and public health, especially in low-income communities and near major roadways. A study by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency found the region could see up to a 26% reduction in climate pollution by 2030 thanks to greener gas and diesel.
Additionally, nearly half of the jet fuel demand from Sea-Tac, Paine Field, and Spokane International could be met simply by utilizing the state’s forest waste. This effort would also create more than 2,000 family-wage jobs in rural communities and result in $650 million in new revenue for the state – all at a time when the budget is facing a shortfall due to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19.
This missed opportunity is just the largest in a list of clean fuel investments that have left our state.
- Red Rock Renewable diesel and jet fuel moved a proposed project from Southwest Washington to Lakeview, Oregon that would have created 130 jobs at 150% above the median wage of the county.
- Propel Fuels, founded in Seattle, relocated its headquarters to Sacramento because California has a renewable fuels market.
- AltAir Fuels planned a biorefinery near Sea-Tac Airport in 2012, but that $350 million investment ended up in Paramount, California.
Unfortunately, delaying a clean fuel standard until there’s legislation on the federal level could take years and would mean lost opportunities for Washington. In the last two years alone, the state has lost out on over $4 billion in investment and thousands of jobs to California and Oregon, most recently when Phillips 66 abandoned its $800 million proposed biorefinery in Whatcom County for the Bay Area, a project that would have created 500 jobs.
The Phillips 66 project is just one of over 30 new biorefineries California has announced since the LCFS went into effect in 2011. This has helped displace more than 3 billion gallons of high-carbon intensity diesel fuel in the state, according to the California Air Resources Board.
Additionally, most low-carbon fuels currently produced in Washington are shipped to Oregon or California because of the demand created by the LCFS – while Washington drivers remain deprived of a greener option.
Clearly, the low carbon fuel standard is an idea whose time has come. The only question is whether Washington will be a leader and reap the rewards – or a laggard who missed out on one of the best clean economic drivers of the decade.