Inslee explains veto of 2030 target for electric vehicles

SEATTLE — A 2030 legislative goal for ending sales of gasoline and diesel passenger vehicles in Washington died at the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The measure, because of a Senate amendment, could only take effect once lawmakers approved a road user fee for most state vehicles. Inslee embraces the 2030 target, but does not think its fate should be tied to movement on another front.

“Setting and achieving a goal of 100 percent electric vehicles is too important to tie to the implementation of a separate policy like a road usage charge,” Inslee said in a written statement explaining his Thursday rejection of the measure.

Inslee’s veto surprised the measure’s backers, who said the 2030 goal would send a strong signal to industry, utilities and consumers about where the state was headed with electric vehicles.

“We are disappointed, but are going to keep working on it and trying to find it a way to get this done,” said Matthew Metz, the Seattle-based co-executive director of Coltura, a group advocating for a gasoline-free America. It had lobbied for the measure.

The 2030 goal of selling only electric (including hydrogen fuel cell) vehicles was tucked inside a bill that sought increased state government and utility planning for electric vehicles. Inslee signed that bill into law, while striking down the 2030 provision.

The transportation sector is Washington’s largest source of greenhouses gas emissions. And, although Washington ranks as one of the top state markets for electric vehicles, they still account for only 48,153 of the more than 6 million registered and light duty vehicles, according to state statistics current as of Feb. 28.

In a historic session, the state Legislature took on the task of weaning the state away from gas and diesel vehicles. Lawmakers at the end of the session passed a major bill that offers a big array of incentives to develop fuels that emit less greenhouse gases, and require the purchase of credits by fuel marketers that do not meet those standards. They also approved a bill that would place a declining cap on state greenhouse gas emissions, and generate revenue by auctioning pollution allowances.

Both bills, as well as one to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from man-made fluorinated gases, were priorities for the governor. He plans to sign all three Monday at Shoreline Community College.

During this year’s legislative session, Coltura initially focused lobbying efforts on a bill that was not one of the governor’s priorities. This legislation proposed Washington state ban registration of new gas and diesel-powered passenger vehicles beginning in 2030.

That bill faced behind the scenes pushback from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose legislative director cautioned in an email that it would face a swift legal challenge in federal court from opponents who would argue the state had exceeded its legal authority under the federal Clean Air Act.

After that bill failed to advance, Metz worked to rally support for an alternate measure that set the 2030 date for ending the sale of new fossil-fuel powered passenger vehicles.

Initially, this measure was not tied to road usage fees.

But in an April 2 meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee, state Sen. Steve Hobbs, a Democrat, successfully proposed an amendment that stated the goal would not be adapted until a road usage fee covered 75% of registered light duty and passenger vehicles.

Road usage fees are a way to help pay for transportation investments that are now heavily reliant on diesel and gasoline taxes, which are forecast to sharply decline as more people turn to electric vehicles.

Although electric vehicles “are great for the environment,” Hobbs said he wanted to ensure “we recognize the fact that they still use our roads, and still need to be maintained.”

Inslee, in a statement released this week, said he is willing “to explore potential of a road usage charge program as part of a larger transportation revenue discussion.”

Metz says he expects to push again for a 2030 date in the next legislative session, and will again seek Inslee’s support.