SEATTLE - The Puget Sound region is striking out on its own with a bold proposal for a clean fuel standard.
The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has drafted a rule that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 26% by 2030 in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
Transportation accounts for more than 40% of the state's carbon emissions.
The petroleum industry predicts a new standard would lead to higher fuel costs.
But Eleanor Bastian, climate and clean energy policy manager for the Washington Environmental Council, says the agency's analysis shows the change would save people money by lowering fuel costs per mile.
"Which we think is a better way to think about those costs than the price at the pump, because the price at the pump is set by whoever owns the gas station," she points out. "And it's just not a very good way for consumers to think about those costs, because it's not something that we can directly control."
The State Legislature shot down a similar credit-trading program with more modest goals for reducing statewide emissions earlier this year. The public comment period on the rule closes Jan. 6.
Carrie Nyssen, senior director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Washington, says the standard would clean up Puget Sound air, noting that reducing the effects of climate change also would improve air quality.
She says the agency's analysis of the rule finds public health savings of up to $45 million from avoided deaths, but there could be even more benefits.
"It doesn't factor in the productivity loss due to illness, the emergency room visits or other medical visits and health costs," Nyssen states. "So, the American Lung Association believes that there's a real health cost savings when we take measures to clean up our air."
Craig Kenworthy, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, says critics may think the program isn't perfect, but the planet can't wait any longer.
"When economists say we should wait for an overall carbon price or there's some better tool out there, they're not taking into account the odds of that happening anytime soon," he states. "This kind of standard is a practical, workable tool that's in place elsewhere, that we could put into place."
After public comments are collected, the agency will consider a final rule no sooner than late February.