January 10, 2019

Scientists Say Washington Can Exceed Targets in Proposed Clean Fuels Program

OAKLAND, Calif. (January 10, 2019)—Washington can reduce emissions from its transportation fuels and make them up to 11 percent cleaner by 2028, according to “Washington’s Clean Fuels Future,” an analysis completed by independent research firm Cerulogy and commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

The state legislature is soon expected to consider a bill modeled on last year’s House Bill 2338 that would require petroleum refineries and fuel importers to reduce the average carbon intensity of the fuels they sell in Washington by 10 percent of 2017 levels by 2028. Similar programs exist in California and Oregon. Refineries and fuel importers could reduce carbon intensity by either blending low-carbon biofuels into the gasoline or diesel they sell, or by purchasing credits generated by providers of lower-carbon fuels, including electricity, renewable diesel and renewable natural gas.

“When you think about transportation fuel, you don’t typically think of electricity,” said Jeremy Martin, director of fuels policy at UCS. “But actually, this analysis found that powering plug-in vehicles with electricity is the most significant thing you can do to clean up the fuel supply.”

Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in Washington. The state needs to cut emissions by nearly 16 million metric tons per year to meet its 2035 carbon emissions limit. Washington is not on track to meet this goal. Governor Jay Inslee’s administration says the proposed clean fuels program would achieve nearly half of the emissions reductions needed in the transportation sector.

“Washington must clean up its fuel supply if it is serious about reducing its carbon emissions and doing its part to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said Martin. “State leaders have the ability to significantly reduce carbon emissions and air pollution, and further cement Washington’s role as a climate leader.”

Washington generates 60 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, mostly from hydropower.

“Washington has a relatively clean grid, so fueling cars with electricity instead of gasoline and diesel is a no-brainer,” said Martin. “A clean fuels program would put more electric vehicles on the road. As Washington further cleans up its grid, those electric cars will pollute less each year.”

A clean fuels program would have the added benefit of generating credits that can put more electric vehicles on the road.

“The details of how the credits will be used has yet to be decided but the scale is significant,” said Martin.

If credits were used to fund a statewide rebate program, rebates could total $2,000 or more per car, according to the analysis. In 2017, there were 7,000 electric vehicles sold in the state.

The research was conducted by Chris Malins, who has a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of Sheffield, was formerly Fuels Program Lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation and is an independent global expert on low carbon and clean fuels policy.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.