Inslee might swallow 'poison pill' to reduce carbon in fuel

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Gov. Jay Inslee (2015)

Gov. Jay Inslee is considering whether he wants to swallow a Republican-concocted “poison pill” or not.

That “poison pill” is language in the 16-year, $16 billion transportation projects package that the Legislature approved earlier this month in the final days of the longest legislative session in Washington’s history. The provision says that if Inslee installs low-carbon fuel standards for some of vehicles in the state, then $700 million of the package would automatically transfer from transit, biking and other multi-modal projects to roads projects.

Senate Republicans insisted on the poison pill as a condition to passing the transportation package, which has been in dispute since 2013. Inslee grudgingly agreed to that condition in order to get the package passed.

Inslee has been consulting with legislative leaders, environmental groups, transportation interests, business leaders and other parties to get feedback on whether he should go with the low-car fuel standards or keep the $700 million in transit and multi-modal appropriations intact, said governor’s spokeswoman Jaime Smith.

Inslee has shown no indication which way he leans, and has not set a timeline for when he might make a decision, Smith said Thursday.

The issue could end up pitting one liberal Inslee constituency against another liberal Inslee constituency — anti global-warming activists versus transit, biking and pedestrian advocates.

Inslee has made reducing carbon emissions — which cause greenhouse gases that lead to global warming problems — a major plank of his governorship. So far, Senate Republicans have opposed him on installing low-carbon fuels standards to reduce pollution. Mixed stories have emerged from behind the scenes on whether the House Democrats had enough votes in 2015 to put into play a carbon emissions tax on the state biggest polluters, as a way to encourage them to reduce their emissions. Inslee has sought the tax, which Republicans oppose, but it's not clear how enthusiastic his fellow Democrats are about it, either.

Senate Republicans said in the 2015 session that they would not allow passage of a carbon emissions tax, expressing concern that it would significantly increase gasoline prices. However, the state’s oil industry is a significant campaign donor to several Senate Republicans.

The bottom line is that Inslee has not been able in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 sessions to get major legislation passed on one of his top issues — combating climate change.

This week, the Spokesman-Review newspaper editorial board, the Seattle Bike Blog and Seattle Transit Blog have all called for Inslee to stay away from the poison pill and to keep the multi-modal projects intact.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8