House passes bill to cut vehicle pollution, increase number of electric cars

OLYMPIA — Washington motorists would use fuel that emits fewer greenhouse gases — and likely pay more for it — over the next 15 years under a proposal to reduce those pollutants that the House approved Wednesday.

After more than three hours of contentious debate, Democrats pushed through a bill that tells the state Department of Ecology to set up a Clean Fuels Program limiting the amount of carbon dioxide and related greenhouse gases released by transportation fuels. It would be a way to protect the planet for future generations, they argued, as well as help expand the biofuel industry and stimulate jobs in that sector.

But Republicans who opposed the bill said it would cost jobs by raising the price of gasoline and diesel for farmers, truckers and families, as well as force more children into mines to dig rare minerals needed for electric vehicles. There are better ways to reduce carbon dioxide, such as planting more trees or reducing the risk of wildfires, they added.

On a 52-44 vote, the House passed the bill, which also seeks to expand the number of electric vehicles on the road as a way to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil fuels. It was sent to the Senate, which gave it a committee hearing last year but didn’t put it to a full vote it after the bill passed the House on a similar tally.

Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, closed debate by saying the discussion was good, but might eventually prove meaningless.

“We’re passing a bill that we know is going to die in the Senate,” DeBolt said.

Transportation pollution is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in Washington “and the hardest to crack,” said Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia.

California, Oregon and British Columbia already have similar programs, she added. “We are standing alone on the West Coast.”

The cleaner diesel fuels don’t just cost more at the pump, they have fewer lubricants to protect engines, said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. Engines will wear out faster and have to be replaced sooner, he said.

“Repairs are exponentially more expensive,” said Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, who described herself as “a daughter of a trucking family.”

Truckers are already leaving the industry “in droves,” she said. “That back is breaking and this might just be the last straw.”

Transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Washington because the state gets more of its electricity from hydroelectric, solar and wind power than other states, Republicans said.

DeBolt said he’d vote for the bill if Democrats would amend it to cover only urban areas where people “sit in their cars all day in traffic.”

“We’re leading the way on energy,” said Rep. Chris Corry, R-Yakima. But his constituents “don’t feel like their concerns are being heard here.”

The bill is about more than carbon emissions, said Rep. Alex Ramel, D-Bellingham. “This is about rising sea levels and falling snow packs we’re experiencing right now. It’s about the droughts and the fire seasons that are already upon us.”

But Democrats might want to take a more global view about the push to expand the number of electric vehicles in all phases of transportation, said Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton. The current versions of those vehicles need minerals like cobalt and copper, which is being mined under dangerous conditions in places like the Congo, she said.

“Children go down in the mines so we can drive our (electric vehicles),” Smith said. Instead of the proposed reductions in greenhouse gases, the state should find ways to develop the next generation of electric cars that use materials “that will not require the abuses we are fomenting around the world,” she added.

Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, said the state could find more cost-effective ways to cut carbon dioxide, like planting trees that use the gas as “plant food.”

Increased carbon dioxide isn’t such a problem, he said, because there have been times when there was more in the atmosphere.

In those days, there were no polar ice caps and those areas had forests and animals, he said.

“The Earth’s climate has been changing since Day 1. The Earth has a way of regulating itself,” Sutherland said. “The Earth is greening.”