It’s About the Economy: Job Creation Opportunities for Rural Washington

We can produce more low-carbon fuels in Washington state. It is time to stop exporting them to our neighbors.

Rural communities in Washington state, from the Pacific coast to the Idaho border, stand to benefit from a clean fuel standard (CFS). The big story is about jobs. Implementing a CFS modeled after those in California and Oregon will bring job opportunities to many regions throughout our state.

Take a look at what has happened in California over the past decade. The market for dairy digesters that make renewable natural gas (RNG) from animal waste is exploding.

California currently has over 100 dairy digester projects in the works. The projects provide short-term construction jobs in California’s Central Valley, where the economy has long lagged behind tech havens in the Bay Area and L.A. Once operational, the digester facilities deliver ultra-low-carbon renewable natural biogas (RNG) throughout the state while employing permanent, long-term workers in rural communities.

Washington state can do the same thing. We are a top 10 dairy-producing state. Dairy farms in central and northwest Washington are in a perfect position to benefit from dairy digesters.

It’s a win-win proposal: the farms receive steady revenue to offset the uncertainty related to wild swings in milk prices, rural residents gain access to construction and operation jobs, and dairy wastes are converted into clean, carbon negative fuel.

Washington Is Rich In Clean Fuel Feedstocks

Opportunities are not limited to dairy farms. HB 1091, which enacts a clean fuel standard in Washington, does not promote one type of fuel source over another. Any fuel with a low carbon content qualifies. Possible sources include crops like corn but also used cooking oil, agricultural waste, forestry waste, and biogas from landfills.

For example, 320,000 tons of waste are diverted from California from landfills every year, which would otherwise rot and decompose, producing harmful gasses (both CO2 and methane) that contribute to global warming. Most of the fuel created is used to power collection vehicles that collect organic waste to make more renewable natural gas. The virtuous cycle continues over and over again. Meanwhile, the excess renewable natural gas that isn’t used in truck fleets goes to Southern California Gas Company for distribution, reducing the utility’s need for conventional natural gas.

Forest waste harvesting offers another great opportunity for growth in cleaner fuels. Currently, much of the residual wood that doesn’t have commercial value as lumber is burned in slash piles. However, through using established conversion methods, these forest residuals can become feedstock for sustainable aviation fuel.

Washington is home to multiple forests that can provide feedstock for sustainable aviation fuels. Currently, most of this is going unused. As a result, we aren’t taking the opportunity to reduce airplane emissions taking off from Sea-Tac, Paine Field, and Spokane International airports by up to 80%.

Jobs in the forests collecting logging slash, transporting it, and refining it must all happen close to each other. This means job opportunities and investments in places like Longview, Aberdeen, Port Angeles, and Omak, where a skilled timber workforce already exists.

Oregon & California Have Benefitted From Clean Fuel Standards

Current economic models suggest the greatest opportunity in fuels from forests is for conversion facilities located in Oregon. One such facility plans to produce 15 million gallons of biofuel per year and sell it to California for flights leaving from Oakland International Airport.

Why has the demand for cleaner fuels taken off in California and Oregon? They both have clean fuel standards that require producers of carbon intense fuels to either reduce their CO2 emissions or pay credits to producers making cleaner fuels.

The result is clean fuels are competing against dirty fossil fuels on an even playing field. No longer can multinational oil companies pollute for free and pass off the costs to the rest of us. Because of the CFS in California, sales of renewable diesel fuel in that state have skyrocketed. (2020 data only includes the first part of the year).

Clean fuel credits only apply to sales in states or provinces with a CFS in place; this is an important point.

In the absence of a local CFS, producers of renewable diesel and renewable natural gas in Washington are taking advantage of financial incentives available in neighboring states to export their fuel.

The Grays Harbor biorefinery in Hoquiam, WA, for example, can produce up to 100 million gallons of biodiesel per year. It is the second-largest such facility in the country, yet it exports its biodiesel to British Columbia, Oregon, and California because that’s where the market exists.

HB 1091 Creates Jobs In Washington Communities That Need Investment

At present, clean fuel production in Washington state is not achieving its potential, but there is plenty of opportunity to expand and good reasons for doing so.

The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) conducted a study that evaluated the economic benefit of hypothetical biorefineries in Longview and Spokane. The plants would use forest residuals (byproducts of timber harvests and forest thinning) as feedstock to make sustainable jet fuel, which they would then sell to airports around the state.

NARA concluded that the Longview plant would create around 2000 jobs in southwestern Washington, while the Spokane plant would create nearly 800 jobs in the eastern part of the state and nearby towns in Idaho. Because the feedstock and refinery must be in close proximity, these good paying jobs can’t be outsourced.

Job opportunities extend beyond those available in biorefinery plant operations and span multiple industry sectors—forestry, construction, retail, food service, and transportation. Rural counties are the primary beneficiaries of this job growth.

Washingtonians Should Have The Option Of Lower Carbon Fuel At The Pump

Washingtonians who want to reduce their own carbon footprint as a way to tackle climate change currently have few options to purchase low-carbon fuels, and the petroleum producers would like to keep it that way. It allows them to keep their monopoly.

What’s good for multinational oil companies is a clear and present danger to our health. Their actions keep saying that their profits are more important than the resurgence of our rural communities. That’s why we need the Washington state legislature to step in this year and pass HB 1091, the clean fuel standard, to tackle climate change and protect the health of our people and our economy.