Gov. Jay Inslee has offered to delay installing low-carbon standards for motor fuels by three years in order to resolve the last major dispute on a $15 billion, 16-year transportation projects package.
The Senate Republicans have countered that they want at least an eight-year delay.
The stakes involve a GOP negotiating stance that if Inslee installs low-carbon fuels standards, $700 million in transit and other multi-modal transportation money will be automatically rerouted to roads. This has been dubbed the transportation package’s “poison pill.”
On Wednesday, Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island and the House Democrats’ lead transportation negotiator, said the low-carbon fuels standards are the only major unresolved issue in the transportation package talks. Those talks are on hold until the Republicans and Democrats resolve their impasse over the main 2015-2017 budget. Clibborn said most of the transportation package’s other loose ends are minor and can be resolved very quickly for passage this legislative session.
But Inslee’s office and the Senate Republicans still clash on the governor’s desire to install low-carbon fuel standards for some vehicles to combat air pollution. Inslee’s trademark issue has been the environment, and the low-carbon fuel standards are the only remaining big climate idea that has survived the 2015 session. The governor’s proposed carbon emissions tax on top polluters has floundered this session. Some much smaller anti-pollution measures have survived.
On Monday, Inslee sent a letter to Democratic and GOP transportation negotiators with his offer to hold off installing any low-carbon fuel standards until at least 2018 in return for the Republicans taking the “poison pill” out of the package.
On Tuesday, Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima and the Senate Republicans’ lead transportation negotiator, sent Inslee a letter with a counteroffer. He argued three years would be too little time to study the technical and commercial feasibilities of low-carbon fuel standards. The Republicans want a delay of at least eight years on installing low-carbon fuel standards. The “poison pill” would kick in if the governor’s office formally begins work on such standards prior to 2023, the GOP’s counteroffer said. The GOP’s positioning so far has been that the poison pills would kick in when the standards are actually implemented.
Republicans — backed by the oil industry and much of the transportation industry — have opposed the low-carbon fuel standards because they would supposedly raise gasoline prices by a significant amount. The Inslee administration has countered that studies show that a barely perceptible rise in gasoline prices would result.
The transportation package includes an 11.7-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax increase, which the Senate has passed, and the House Democrats say they will approve.