Saturday, July 18, 2015

WA Gov. Inslee considers swallowing “poison pill" to implement low-carbon fuels

Update: The governor opted against this, he announced July 28.  

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is considering swallowing the “poison pill” which could divert funding from non-auto alternatives into highway construction in order to begin implementing a low carbon fuel standard. 

“The governor did have meetings over the past couple of days to talk about this with stakeholders,” Inslee press aide David Postman said Saturday afternoon, confirming rumors which have been flying fiercely around Olympia in recent days. “He hasn't made any decision. He is following up on what he said in his sine die press release, and again similarly at the transportation bill signing.”

In that release Inslee said, "I signed this transportation package even though it included the poison pill because it’s important that we move forward on critical investments that provide safety, jobs and traffic relief. This creates a tough decision, and I’ll make it after I review all our options.” 

“That's what he's doing now, reviewing options,” Postman said.

Postman noted that the transportation alternatives money, which comes from licensing and vehicle weight fees, would not automatically shift to highways.

“The poison pill would require multi-modal funds to be transferred to the Connecting Washington account if the administration moved ahead with a clean fuel standard. From there, it would have to be reappropriated by the Legislature. It doesn't automatically go to road projects.”

Inslee and executive staff believe the governor has executive power to order than the carbon-intensity of fuels is reduced by 10% over the coming decade.  Any implementation would be challenged in court by the oil industry. 

If Inslee goes ahead and begins implementation despite the “poison pill” inserted in the transportation package by Senate Republicans, it will indicate how much he wants a climate victory.  Inslee has long been an outspoken climate advocate.  He was one of the prime climate leaders in Congress.  After losing his effort to institute a carbon cap and price in the legislative session, he may decide he does not want his first term to pass without a climate gain.

Implementation in the face of “poison pill” would also be a way to poke a stick in the eye of the Western States Petroleum Association, which defeated his carbon bill and pushed the “poison pill.”

Inslee may calculate that the fuel standard will do more to reduce carbon emissions than the transit, van pool and bicycling alternatives that would be lost.  A state government contact confirmed that staff is running numbers. And since this is only the first years of a transportation package that runs through 2031, the governor may also calculate that these losses could be reversed in future legislative sessions.  The Democrats hope to re-capture the State Senate with presidential year turnout in 2016.

I’ve known Inslee for a number of years.  Based on that my gut says he is preparing to pull the trigger to implement Clean Fuels. 

(p.s. Others I've talked to are skeptical.  So I've made some bets. I have several beers riding on the outcome.)  

(p.p.s. My gut was wrong. I will owe some beers.  See here.  It's just as well. Clean fuels vs. transportation alternatives is a terrible choice.)


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