At an Oct. 7 regular meeting, the Issaquah City Council received an informational presentation from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency(PSCAA) regarding a new clean fuel standard proposed for the central Puget Sound region.
David Fujimoto, city sustainability director, introduced speaker Craig Kenworthy, PSCAA executive director.
Fujimoto mentioned some of Issaquah’s current sustainability efforts and goals, including the aim to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.
“For Issaquah we know that auto travel contributes to air quality concerns such as oxides, nitrogen and particulate matter, primarily in proximity to high volume traffic areas such as along (Interstate 90). So there is relevance locally,” he said.
He talked about how pre-existing agencies’ tracking methods that monitor data from a variety of scientific sources have shown some areas in Issaquah to have moderate to high air quality concerns. He also said the transportation sector is the source of about one third of the community’s total GHG emissions.
“Identifying some sound regional and market based approaches are important in our endeavors to achieve some of our goals,” he said. “PSCAA has been studying this issue and looking for a regional solution.”
He said the proposed regional clean fuel standard has some connections to the city’s legislative agenda that will be considered by the city council as well as the King County Cities Climate Collaboration, of which Issaquah is a member.
Kenworthy talked about local impacts of climate change and air quality, including summer 2018, when Washington had some of the worst air quality in the world due to wildfires near and far. He anecdotally said that one of his staff members had suggested scuba diving to a news reporter who asked about safe activities for those who love the outdoors.
But the situation wasn’t humorous. “There was nowhere to escape last summer,” he said. “People could not avoid the health effects of all of the irritants of all of that wildfire smoke.”
He said the wildfire smoke problem is just one example of an effect of climate change residents can experience today. More often than not, he said people usually think of future effects of climate change.
“We’re paying for climate change right now,” he said.
He also highlighted some potential local impacts such as glaciers melting, riverbeds rising and flood risks increasing.
He explained that the PSCAA is a regional clean air government agency for the four counties of central Puget Sound, and they also hope their clean fuel standard would be adopted by the state Legislature.
He said transportation is the single biggest source of GHG in the region and will likely continue to be the biggest as electricity sources continue to become cleaner.
The PSCAA has a target of an overall 50 percent reduction in regional GHG emissions by 2030. They examined different regional strategies to reduce GHG emissions, analyzing 11 strategies at length.
What they came up with is that a regional clean fuel standard, which requires reduction in the overall carbon pollution from transportation fuels, would have the highest impact on reducing GHG emissions with the highest level of certainty and with additional air quality and health benefits.
He said it also would result in fewer toxins, irritants, particulate matter in the air, and less carcinogenic diesel fuel pollution.
Washington is the only West Coast state without a clean fuel standard today.
How it works is that over time, step by step, the goal is to reduce the amount of GHG pollution in transportation fuels.
Different types of fuel are scored by their level of carbon intensity — there are high carbon fuels and low carbon fuels — taking into account the entire life cycle of the fuel, including how the fuel is produced, how it is transported, how it is refined and how much carbon pollution it produces when used.
There would be a percentage reduction goal each year, increasing every year. The standard sets a goal but does not provide a framework for how to achieve the level of reduction, and people can be innovative with their methodology.
There is also a proposed credit system in which fuel production companies would receive credits for hitting targets, or have to buy credits for missing the mark. Credits could also be sold on the makert, for example by lower-carbon fuel producers to higher-carbon fuel producers. Higher-carbon fuel producers could also buy lower-carbon fuel and create a blend that is lower emitting overall.
Kenworthy gave some examples of lower carbon fuels including biodiesel and renewable diesel, such as vegetable oils and waste oils, electricity, ethanol from corn or sugar, and renewable natural gas from landfills or wastewater.
He gave a brief overview of economic impacts from adopting the standard, including a worst-case scenario of some gas price increases in Washington State.
But he said overall more money would stay within the four counties and the costs of investments would be matched by savings.
“The overall effect of it is it’s an opportunity to reduce GHG emissions from transportation [and increase] health benefits across the region,” he said. “And on a regional macro economics scale it’s basically a wash in terms of the investments versus the costs savings.”
He went over the potential timeline for adopting the clean fuel standard, which includes drafting the rule this month and then having a 90-day public comment period during which city councils can give feedback. There will be a public hearing on Dec. 19.
The city may choose to formally comment on the proposed PSCAA rule once issued, as well as consider support for a state-level standard as a part of its legislative agenda later this year.
An update to the city’s GHG inventory is currently underway, with results expected later this year.