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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As the warm days of summer give way to the cooler temperatures and warm colors of autumn, I’d like to share a quick update on a pressing topic: gas prices.

For several weeks this past summer, Washington had the highest gas prices in the nation, competing for that unfortunate distinction with California. Prices continue to hover around $5 a gallon in our state. In fact, The News Tribune has reported more than a third of Washington drivers canceled summer travel plans over high gas prices.

As your state representative, I have kept a close eye on the rise in gas prices in our state and its impact on our district. Higher gas prices hurt everyone; however, arguably, it harms those living in rural areas the most. With longer commutes, limited public transportation, and fewer resources to cushion the blow of increased fuel costs, people in rural districts suffer far more financial stress than their urban counterparts. Worse yet, especially in our district, farmers and ranchers struggle to pay the high transportation costs necessary to get their goods to market.

Why are gas prices high? Although the governor’s office has blamed rising gas prices on “the greed and avarice of these oil companies,” that statement is inaccurate. If it were, Idaho’s gas prices would mirror ours. Instead, gas prices are nearly a dollar less per gallon in Idaho than in Washington state. The real reason for the dramatic rise in gas prices is the cap-and-trade program that took effect in January. That program, sold originally to the public as something that would cost consumers “pennies” has resulted in an average increase in fuel costs of $500 per year for Washington families.

Learn more about Washington’s rising gas prices by clicking here.

Here’s how we got here:

In 2020, the majority party passed legislation intended to increase the aggressiveness of our state’s emission reduction targets, including a 45% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. In 2021, they expanded their plans with two controversial pieces of legislation: the low-carbon fuel standard mandate, House Bill 1091, and the governor’s climate cap-and-trade bill, Senate Bill 5126, also known as the Climate Commitment Act (CCA). Under the CCA, companies emitting carbon dioxide, including oil companies, are required to buy allowances (allowing them to pollute) at state auctions. Because I saw the problems and long-range effects on Washingtonians, I voted “no” on both bills listed above.

The problem is that the costs of carbon emission allowances are, of course, being passed on to consumers. In May 2023, Washington’s cap-and-trade auction set the carbon fee at $56.01; in August, the price was $63.03—over three times more expensive than originally predicted. Under the CCA, our state government will rake in billions from these auctions while the rest of us struggle to pay for a tank of gas.

  • An article that appeared this week in The Center Square says, “Washington’s $5.02 per gallon is $1.17 per gallon higher than the national average of $3.85 per gallon. It is also $1.71 per gallon above the nation’s least expensive fuel cost of $3.31 per gallon, currently paid by Mississippi residents.”

What about our farmers and ranchers? During the debate on the cap-and-trade program, proponents assured lawmakers—and the public—that fuels used for producing and transporting agricultural products would be exempt. The exemption was supposed to apply to aviation and marine fuels as well. That exemption and/or rebate has yet to be realized.

  • In 2023, House Bill 1780 was introduced to reimburse members of our agricultural community for those additional costs. However, the majority party refused to give the bill a hearing or consider similar amendments on the House floor.

So, where is all this new cap-and-trade revenue going? First, let’s start with where it is not going: Washington’s roads. The CCA is not covered under our state’s 18th Amendment, which requires gas taxes and vehicle license fees to be spent on transportation projects. CCA money has been allocated in the state’s operating budget for things like clean energy siting and permitting, local government planning, energy assistance, and funding for community and tribal participation support.

  • While I agree the items listed above can be good things, Washington’s cap-and-trade program comes at an extremely high cost for working individuals and families, especially those with lower incomes. I grew up in a farming family and care about the environment as much as anyone; however, addressing environmental concerns should be balanced by protecting people and their livelihoods.

Is the cap-and-trade program worth the cost? The program limits pollution in certain sectors but allows emitting in others. It falls short of achieving the emission reductions sold to the public as the reason for its implementation. Many energy experts, including myself, have noted that when compared to its limited effectiveness, the program’s costs—passed on to consumers—are extremely high.

What now? Here’s a list of proposals (fixes) to this growing problem:

  • Amend: We need to establish better agency guidelines for the cap-and-trade program that reduces the price of carbon credits and lowers fuel prices. Click here to read a letter outlining proposed agency improvements.
  • Rebate: With the state collecting more revenue, individuals and families struggle to pay for gas. Providing a rebate could help offset the financial burdens being placed on individuals and families coping with the rising cost of gasoline. Next, rebates for farmers and ranchers should be a priority, and House Bill 1780 needs to be approved by the Legislature.
  • Repeal: The CCA’s shortcomings are enough to consider repealing the bill. The Act places significant burdens on businesses, particularly those in energy-intensive industries, farmers, ranchers, and many others that could cause reduced competitiveness, job losses, and even higher consumer costs.

Here’s a list of other news stories on the state’s cap-and-trade program:

Thank you! I’d like to express my gratitude to everyone who has reached out to my office about gas prices and other state-government-related issues. You will hear more from me about this topic and others in the months leading up to the 2024 session.

  • Be sure to look out for next month’s update, which will focus primarily on property taxes and answer concerns from constituents about future COVID mandates. (Hint: We’ve been given no indication that there will be more COVID-related mandates).

Please be assured that I am committed to working tirelessly on behalf of our district.

Thank you for your trust and support!

Sincerely,


Alex Ybarra

State Representative Alex Ybarra, 13th Legislative District
RepresentativeAlexYbarra.com
470 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
alex.ybarra@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7808 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000