Cutting pollution with clean fuels: a top climate priority for Washington

Washington needs clean fuels now

We have one decade to cut our climate pollution in half. Making our transportation fuels cleaner is one solution among many we must pursue—but it’s a straightforward one that has already been successful in California, and Oregon, and British Columbia. Washington cannot wait another year to pass a Clean Fuel Standard.  

The Clean Fuel Standard (HB 1091) would serve as a foundational policy to reduce climate and air pollution from our transportation sector—if the Washington Legislature passes it during the 2021 session. Right now, Washington is a lonely outlier on the West coast: the only state that is not benefiting from a Clean Fuel Standard (CFS, also referred to as a “low carbon fuel standard”). We should join Oregon, California, and British Columbia so we too can benefit from cleaner air, transportation choices, and boost our local economy.

Why? Just take a look at the benefits. Here’s a quick overview of the Clean Fuel Standard, how it works, and how you can help it reach the Governor’s desk and become law in 2021!

Climate benefits

In Washington, we cannot act on climate without addressing emissions from our most polluting sector: transportation. Currently, transportation accounts for nearly 45% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. Our transportation emissions alone are equal to or greater than the emissions of entire countries such as Norway, Ireland, New Zealand, and Ecuador, to name a few. A Clean Fuel Standard would help put us on track to change this, reducing Washington’s emissions by 4 million metric tons annually.

We know that Clean Fuel Standards do this. The best way to know if a policy works is to look to places that already have implemented it: California has avoided 38 million tons of carbon pollution and cut almost 13.7 billion gallons of petroleum under their Clean Fuel Standard. California has also invested $2.8 billion of investment in clean fuels production. Oregon’s Clean Fuels Program reduced climate pollution by almost 1.3 million tons in 2019 alone.

The Clean Fuel Standard not only reduces the carbon in our fuels, but it creates a positive investment cycle for cleaner fuels—including our clean electricity—helping more people access these green options by growing local clean fuels businesses and investing in clean fuels infrastructure (such as electric vehicle charging stations).

Health benefits

Emissions from our transportation fuels like diesel and gasoline worsen our air quality and make us sick. As the recent Washington wildfires and the continuing COVID-19 pandemic have shown, clean air matters to us all. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has found that air pollution causes over 1,000 deaths each year in Washington. Cleaner transportation fuels would help clean up our air and our climate. That’s why leading public health organizations like the American Lung Association, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Washington Academy of Family Physicians view a Clean Fuel Standard as one of the most important ways to improve public health and air quality, saving millions in healthcare costs. 

Prioritizing cleaner fuels and cleaner air will also help address long-standing inequities in who is most impacted by climate change and pollution. Racist public policies such as redlining and inner-city highway construction create toxic concentrations of diesel and gas pollution like the high amounts found in busy trucking corridors, distribution hubs, and seaports that disproportionately affect low-income and communities of color. In King County, diesel particulate pollution contributes to a reduction in life expectancy by 13 years for those living in the Duwamish Valley compared to other parts of the County.

Clean fuel standards in our neighboring West coast states have contributed to billions of dollars in avoided public health costs because of fewer asthma attacks and hospitalizations, lower rates of lung cancer and heart attacks, and thousands of fewer lost workdays. For example, California’s Clean Fuel Standard will help save the state $8.3 billion by 2025 through lower health care costs.

Economic benefits

A Clean Fuel Standard will benefit our local economy, create green jobs here at home, and provide us with cheaper fuel choices. We actually already produce clean fuels in our state, but the product gets shipped to our neighbors that have adopted a Clean Fuel Standard. These states continue to attract new clean fuels business investments—like sustainable biofuel feedstock production in rural communities and electric vehicle infrastructure—while Washington is missing out. Greater access to clean fuels in Washington will support rural economic development by relying on local fuels rather than out of state oil, plus grow our clean energy job market. Right now, we send $9 billion annually out of state through our gas purchases. Let’s change that by implementing the Clean Fuel Standard so Washington can become even more competitive, even turning agricultural, food, and forestry waste into revenue. Washington already supports over 1,900 jobs in the clean fuels industry and over 3,000 jobs in the electric vehicle industry. We can support these local jobs as well as restaurants, farmers, and others who will now be able to turn waste like used cooking oil and, yes, livestock poop, into fuel!

In addition to creating local jobs and new revenue options for businesses, a Clean Fuel Standard will save us money by making it easier to access cheaper fuel choices. Multiple studies, including from Consumer Reports and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, have shown that a Clean Fuel Standard will reduce our transportation costs. Part of the reason why is because we are currently trapped by the near-monopoly oil companies have on our choices.  The oil industry dictates the price of gas, bringing in about 80 cents per gallon of pure profit in the Seattle metropolitan area. A Clean Fuel Standard would help dismantle their monopoly on our choices and ensure the cleanest and most affordable fuels compete on a level playing field. Electricity is about three times less expensive than gasoline and diesel, saving people money not only on fuel but also on upkeep and maintenance, of which electric vehicles require less. 

How it works

A Clean Fuel Standard simply requires fuel producers to sell a cleaner product or invest in clean, low-carbon choices like electricity and local, sustainable biofuels to power our transportation. A Clean Fuel Standard ensures pollution goes down by requiring transportation fuels to reduce their carbon by 20% by 2035 under HB 1091. Carbon intensity is determined over a fuel’s whole lifecycle, including distribution and production, meaning clean fuels considered under the standard are truly leading to holistic emissions reductions.

Dirty fuel producers have a few choices for how to comply. They can clean up their act by improving their own processes and reducing emissions, or by blending sustainable biofuels into their product. Or, they can pay for clean fuels production by purchasing credits from clean fuels producers. This will create a positive cycle: clean fuels producers (which includes electric utilities) and green fleet operators will be able to expand clean fuels use and production while oil companies pay for it.

Under the Clean Fuel Standard, utilities will invest the credits they receive from clean electricity being used as a fuel into further transportation electrification. Under HB 1091, they will be required to invest 30% of their total revenue specifically into communities that have been most impacted by air pollution. The Clean Fuel Standard not only guarantees our transportation fuels will become cleaner, but it also will release the oil industry’s monopoly grip on our fuel choices and help fund the clean fuels transition.

How you can help

We have one decade to halve our climate pollution and cannot wait another year to pass the Clean Fuel Standard. That means we’ll need your help to tell the legislature we need Clean Fuels Now!

  • Sign the Clean Fuels petition and then share with friends, family, and on social media
  • Sign up to help with our grassroots engagement at “work parties” where we do things like write postcards to our legislators
  • Follow @CleanFuelsWork and @CleanFuelWA on Twitter and Facebook and help share posts
  • Write to your legislators and tell them how important it is to you that we pass the Clean Fuel Standard this session
  • Sign up for Climate Solutions’ email list to stay in the loop.

Let’s join the rest of our West Coast neighbors, and make 2021 the year for clean fuels in Washington!

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Author Bio

Leah Missik

Acting Washington Director, Climate Solutions

Leah develops and implements policies and conducts research that will accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy, with a focus on the transportation sector. She joined Climate Solutions in January 2019.

Prior to joining Climate Solutions, Leah was the Senior Program Manager of Built Green, a green home certification program in Washington State. Leah holds her Master of Public Affairs from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, with concentrations in Environmental Policy and International Affairs. She received her B.A. from Kenyon College in 2010. Leah is a Jackson Foundation Leadership Fellow, an alum of Leadership Tomorrow, and a Senior Fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program.

As a volunteer, Leah collaborates with Russian environmental, human rights, and anti-war activists, translating their work into English. With the rest of her time, Leah enjoys long-distance running and bicycling, adventuring, and practicing her Russian.