Guest opinion: Legislators must find better ways to reduce CO2

Washington and Oregon lawmakers want to end their legislative sessions; however, accounting for the costs of carbon emissions is a major road block.

In Salem, rural Republican senators are boycotting session and thereby denying majority Democrats a quorum to vote on a “cap and trade” bill. The measure calls for an 80 percent state reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2050. The system would be similar to existing programs in California and some Canadian provinces.

The state would set a cap on total GHG emissions. Oregon’s largest 100 industries are targeted. They would be required to buy pollution permits to cover their emissions. That includes a variety of large manufacturers, paper mills, fuel distributors and utilities.

Bill opponents say those companies, if they continue to operate in Oregon, are then forced to pass increased costs to consumers including farmers, shippers, loggers, fire and police departments, hospitals, schools and even soccer moms.

Jenny Dresler with the Oregon Farm Bureau estimates cap and trade would drive up annual fuel costs for farmers between $1,000 and $3,000.

In Olympia, the adjournment deadline is March 12. Democrats in the House already passed what is called a “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” (LCFS). It is awaiting action in the Senate.

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA) estimates LCFS would cost the average household in the Puget Sound region $900 a year. Gasoline prices would increase up to $0.57 per gallon and diesel prices by as much as $0.63 within a decade.

The Association of Washington Business estimates it would cost up to $2 billion in infrastructure changes to switch fuel alternatives and LCFS would reduce the state’s gross regional product by $1.4 billion.

Oregon and California passed LCFS laws in 2009 which are costly, complicated and falling short of advertised goals for reducing carbon emissions.

The Washington Policy Center (WPC) reports, the cost of Oregon’s low-carbon fuel mandate more than doubled since it was enacted — jumping from 1 cent to 2.4 cents per gallon.

California Energy Commission’s data shows its LCFS now adds 16 cents per gallon to the cost of gasoline and diesel. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts costs will increase to $0.41 per gallon by 2030 and it is 10 times more costly than alternative carbon reduction programs.

“Oregon’s price of $155 per metric ton of CO2 is more than 22 times what Seattle City Light pays to offset GHG emissions by investing in other CO2-reducing projects. California’s LCFS is even more expensive at $195 per metric ton of CO2, making it nearly 28 times as expensive,” WPC’s Todd Myers wrote.

A low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) is a rule enacted to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption. The most common cleaner burning alternative producing less CO2 is natural gas (CNG and LPG).

However, natural gas projects face strong opposition from anti carbon-fuel activists.

The main purpose of a low-carbon fuel standard should be to decrease all carbon dioxide emissions by considering the entire life cycle (“well to wheels”) of all vehicles in order to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation.

The concept is laudable; however, the same detailed life-cycle analysis does not apply to substitute energy sources such as battery and hydrogen operated vehicles. It should. For example, the costs of mining, processing and disposing of metals and chemicals in the lithium batteries should be calculated as part its lifecycle.

No doubt, vehicles emit lots of CO2. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) calculates transportation generate 29 percent of our total greenhouse gases making it our largest contributor.

Lots has been accomplished, but lots more needs to be done.

There needs to be better approaches.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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