Policy Blog

Hilary FranzAs the 2018 Washington State legislative session begins, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz has sent an open letter to House and Senate leaders in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy, Environment and Technology, highlighting the threat climate change poses to our state lands and waters and calling for our state to adopt a carbon policy that puts a price on carbon and adheres to Four Resilience Principles.

Commissioner Franz stated in an interview on KING 5 News that we are already seeing significant impacts of climate change on our land and water.  Franz said that while looking at a price on carbon, a mechanism for implementing this policy must ensure that we don’t have an undue impact on those people who produce our food, keep our forests safe and healthy, and protect our waters.

Franz emphasized that we need to implement a carbon policy in Washington State that strengthens the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities and invests in carbon sequestration.  This policy must look at our natural resource areas, particularly our farms and forests, as critical areas that will actually help reduce carbon emissions.  We must invest in making our lands and waters more resilient in the face of climate change, which is already impacting us and will only get worse.

In particular, Franz emphasized that we must address the concerns and impacts on rural communities in Washington, whose economies are heavily dependent on natural resources threatened by climate change.  They are also a crucial part of the overall state economy — from the lumber we use to the food we all eat. By recognizing the needs of rural Washingtonians, Franz made a strong case for the bipartisan nature of climate action, as climate chaos will impact all of us.

Explaining why we need to put a price on carbon, Franz pointed out that we are already incurring enormous costs because we are not preparing for the future impacts of climate change. In her letter, she said, “While it is true that Washington is small in global emissions, it is also true that we provide significant national and global leadership when it comes to innovation, technology, and sustainable resource management—all of which are needed to combat climate change.  We are home to rich forests, soils, and aquatic lands that offer climate change solutions that could stretch well beyond our state borders.”

Franz went on to say, “the threats to our healthy and productive lands are real.  We are already late in responding, and we cannot afford to wait for others to bring leadership to this challenge.”  Franz believes that Washington State’s leadership is needed and timely, and she urges rapid action.

As we move into 2018, and the legislature and our communities around the state contemplate this critical and enormous challenge, Franz and the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offered the following four principles intended to “guide and inform the statewide debate on carbon policy” — which they believe are critical to successfully addressing climate change and carbon policy.

  1. Tackle the root cause — carbon pollution — and invest in reduction efforts
  • Establish greenhouse gas reduction (GHG) policies, such as pricing or capping carbon, that effectively reduce pollution;
  • Focus investments on activities with a strong nexus to reducing carbon pollution; and
  • Minimize unintended effects of carbon policies on Washington residents as well as energy and trade-intensive businesses such as the pulp and paper, agricultural, and natural resource-dependent industries.
  1. Strengthen the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities
  • Address impacts we are already seeing from climate change and that we will only see more of in the future, including wildfire risk, forest health issues, ocean acidification, sea level rise, flooding, landslides, drought, heat waves, and extreme weather;
  • Implement long-term strategies to support the health and viability of rural, natural resource-dependent communities, including investments to improve wildfire suppression and forest health, support water storage and reduce drought, and expand renewable energy systems; and
  • Increase the viability and resiliency of agricultural lands to ensure our state’s agricultural economy, our capacity to produce food for future populations, and the long-term health of our soil.
  1. Accelerate carbon sequestration
  • Tap into the potential of Washington’s forests, farms, ranchland, coastlines, wetlands, riparian corridors, and soils to sequester and store carbon; and
  • Invest in statewide carbon sequestration programs that incentivize keeping working farms and forests working and maximizing carbon stored in trees and soils.
  1. Invest in and incentivize solutions with multiple benefits
  • Incentivize and invest in the management of working forests in ways that increase carbon storage, grow forest management jobs, increase soil moisture storage, increase timber value, sustain timber production, improve summer stream flows, and increase resilience to disturbance;
  • Incentivize and invest in alternative cropping systems and range management to increase soil carbon storage, increase soil moisture storage and increase resilience to drought;
  • Incentivize and invest in marine restoration efforts to address local effects of ocean acidification, increase aquatic carbon storage, and improve shellfish production and salmon habitat;
  • Invest in riverine, floodplain, and wetland restoration to strengthen resilience to floods, improve salmon habitat, increase public safety, increase water filtration and retention, and protect infrastructure; and
  • Invest in tree planning, planting, and management in cities and towns to improve air quality, increase carbon storage, improve water quality during high-rain stormwater events, improve quality of life, and decrease long-term healthcare costs.

We appreciate the leadership and thoughtful analysis that Franz and her staff at the Department of Natural Resources are bringing to the discussion. Washington State’s leadership is needed and timely.  In ongoing negotiations on climate policy, lawmakers should consider including Franz’s recommendations to strengthen the health of our land, forests, water systems and rural communities.

On January 9, Carbon Washington board member (and former UTC Commissioner) Philip Jones testified on CarbonWA’s behalf in support of HB 2338, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) bill introduced by Representative Joe Fitzgibbon. He joined representatives from Audubon Washington, Climate Solutions and the Washington Environmental Council, who also testified in support.

Philip JonesCarbon Washington is strongly supports carbon pricing, the most economically efficient policy mechanism for reducing carbon pollution, but putting a price on carbon isn’t the only strategy for reducing it.  We also support legislative action, and initiatives to create other carbon reduction policies that align with our mission. The three most common policy options for reducing carbon pollution are pricing mechanisms, subsidies, and regulations. A low carbon fuel standard is a regulation designed to reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector which accounts for the majority of Washington’s emissions.

Bill Brief

HB 2338 would require the Department of Ecology to develop a regulatory program to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels to 10% below 2017 levels by 2028.  The carbon intensity of each transportation fuel type would be calculated by completing a full life-cycle analysis of the emissions associated with the production and distribution of the fuel, in addition to its use in a motor vehicle. Importantly, that analysis would take into account the carbon emissions associated with any changes in land-use, an important factor for biofuels.

Functionally, this bill grants Ecology the authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector by requiring fuel switching. The climate benefits come from increasing the use of electricity and natural gas for transportation, and from blending low carbon alternative fuels, like biodiesel, into conventional transportation fuels.

Often, when people think of LCFS, they think of ethanol, a dubious federal experiment in biofuels. But, this LCFS is more focused on electrification of transportation, requiring 25% of credit revenues to be invested in EV infrastructure, and on other verified carbon reduction fuel options. By requiring a life cycle analysis, this bill will also sort out the biofuel options that are beneficial for the climate from those that aren’t. It also creates a tradeable credit system that will allow regulated entities to monetize going “above and beyond” if they are able to reduce carbon beyond the established targets.  

LCFS in Practice

California, Oregon, and British Columbia, in addition to many countries, already have Low Carbon Fuel Standards in place. California has the oldest LCFS, which has successfully reduced the carbon intensity of their transportation fuels with nominal impacts on retail prices. The price impacts are expected to increase some as reduction targets increase; however, compliance flexibility, including a system for trading reductions, makes the economic efficiency of a well-designed LCFS quite high.  

LCFS

 

Digging Deeper

Hopefully, HB 2338 can pass in the Legislature this year, but if not, it may be feasible as an initiative since a majority of voters from both parties support a transition to cleaner fuels in polling.

A LCFS is also potentially a very good complement to a carbon tax in Washington. In a perfect world we would have a strong economy-wide carbon tax with a relatively high price. That price would encourage lots of households and businesses to buy dramatically more efficient vehicles, particularly electric ones, while motivating deep carbon reductions in many other sectors. But realistically, when Washington does enact its first carbon tax, it is likely to start at a relatively low price. A low carbon price still motivates a lot of carbon reductions by targeting low hanging fruit in the electric sector, industrial sector, and built environment while encouraging better vehicle purchasing decisions. However, fuel switching is typically considered a higher hanging fruit and may not be significantly motivated by a relatively low price on carbon.

Combining these two policies would allow the carbon tax to efficiently reduce carbon emissions across the economy without having to design multiple sector-specific programs. Later, as the carbon price grows, the costs of the two policies do not become additive, because normal market forces gradually achieve the regulatory requirements of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and it eventually just becomes redundant, adding no additional cost. To summarize, a LCFS can begin reducing carbon in the transportation sector until a robust carbon price kicks in.

Conclusion

We hope the Washington Legislature will adopt HB 2338 during this session. But if lawmakers don’t act, an LCFS could be a good subject for a ballot initiative. Polling consistently shows that a majority of voters from both parties support a transition to cleaner fuels. One way or the other, we will succeed in reducing the carbon emissions that drive climate change, by accelerating Washington’s transition to a prosperous clean energy future.

leonard-cotte-paris

The election results from initiative 732 demonstrate that in Bellingham, Tacoma, Seattle and other Washington cities, support for climate action via carbon price is strong and politically viable. It prompts the question, why not start here? Launching carbon pricing as a patchwork within Washington State would both show the viability of the policy and create an incentive to level the playing field with a statewide policy. Washington cities, with Seattle in the lead, have also pledged themselves to serious carbon emission reductions by joining the Paris Agreement and other agreements, despite having made little progress towards the goals thus far.   (more…)