WA Gov. Inslee vetoes 2030 gas car ban, citing road usage fee concerns


Washington State’s 2030 gas car ban is no more, due to a veto by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. He had been expected to sign the bill this morning, but vetoed it stating that “achieving a goal of 100% electric vehicles is too important to tie to the implementation of a separate policy like the road usage charge.”

The bill as passed would have banned the sale or registration of new gas vehicles of model year 2030 or later in the state of Washington. Vehicles prior to model year 2030 would not have been affected.

An amendment added to the bill tied this goal to the implementation of a road usage fee in Washington state. It stated that the guidelines would not take effect until 75% of cars in Washington were covered by a road usage fee.

Currently, about half of Washington state’s road funding comes from gasoline taxes and registration fees, and gas tax revenues are expected to reduce as electric vehicles become more common. As a reaction to this, many states have implemented punitive electric vehicle fees (backed by fossil industry propaganda), scapegoating electric vehicles for poor road status, rather than the fact that many of them haven’t raised the gas tax in decades.

Washington is one of these states that has added an electric vehicle fee. EV drivers are punished for their use of a less environmentally impactful option with an extra $150 registration fee per year, on top of the taxes they already pay on the electricity used to fuel the vehicle. This is equivalent to the amount of WA state gas taxes on about 300 gallons of gasoline. For comparison, if an EV has an EPA rating of 120MPGe (and many are around this number), that’s the equivalent of 36,000 miles of driving they’re paying for – even though few drive that many miles.

Another way around this future problem of reduced gas tax revenue is to start charging a road usage fee for all vehicles, based on miles driven and/or weight, which would be a more equitable way to have roads funded by all who use them. This way, the more miles you drive, the more you pay for roads. The vetoed bill had a provision to implement a road usage fee in Washington for this reason.

It’s this part of the bill that Inslee focused on in his veto. He did not specifically take issue with either the road usage fee or the ban on new gas vehicles, but rather with the fact that the two were tied together – that for the gas car ban to happen, the road usage fee must be implemented first. Read the full statement below:

Governor Inslee Veto Statement on E2SHB 1287

Section 6 of the bill ties a very important goal of electrifying our transportation sector to the implementation of a road usage charge program. Transportation is our state’s greatest source of carbon emissions and we cannot afford to link an important goal like getting to 100% zero-emission vehicles to a separate policy that will take time to design and implement.

I am committed to getting to zero emission transportation as quickly as possible. In fact, Washington is leading the way by building electric vehicle charging infrastructure, procuring zero-emission transit vehicles and building electric ferries, providing financial incentives for electric vehicle purchases, and advocating for a national 100% zero-emission vehicle standard by 2035.

I am also open to exploring the potential of a road usage charge program as part of a larger transportation revenue discussion. I look forward to working with legislators and stakeholders to figure out how to design a road usage charge that ensures the privacy of drivers, helps meet our zero-emission transportation goals, and ensures low-income and overburdened communities are not doubly penalized after already suffering through longer commutes.

Yet setting and achieving a goal of 100% electric vehicles is too important to tie to the implementation of a separate policy like the road usage charge.

When Gov. Inslee ran for the Democratic nomination in 2020, he was known as the “climate candidate.” His environmental proposals were quite strong, stronger than the rest of the field, and he has been positive on environmental issues during his tenure as governor. During the campaign, he supported a national 2030 phaseout for gas vehicles.

Inslee’s statement suggests that he now supports a 2035 deadline nationally, rather than a 2030 deadline. He recently joined 11 other governors in delivering a letter to President Joe Biden asking for all new light-duty cars to be zero-emission by 2035. Though Gov. Inslee’s office told Electrek that he “wants to get to 100% electric as quickly as possible” and may still support an earlier goal in Washington state than he does nationally.

The use of the word “goal” is important here due to the fact that Washington does not have a Clean Air Act waiver and can’t pre-empt national emissions regulations in the same way California can. The Clean Cars 2030 bill took steps to avoid potential future legal challenges by not mentioning emissions reductions, and rather focusing on other benefits of EVs like lower ownership costs, local job creation from charging infrastructure, etc.

Though Inslee’s statement does not mention pre-emption rules as part of the rationale for his veto, his office did state that these rules would make it difficult for him to implement any similar effort via executive order (that is, unless California does so first).

It is not clear what will happen to the effort from here. The legislature may decide to send another bill to Inslee’s desk without tying the two parts together, or Inslee could theoretically figure out a way to set some sort of goal by executive order. Electrek reached out to Senator Marko Liias and Representative Nicole Macri, who introduced the bill in their respective legslative houses, but did not hear back from either by press time.

Matthew Metz, founder of Coltura, a climate advocacy organization which backed the Clean Cars 2030 bill, still wants to fight for the 2030 target in Washington and elsewhere. He released a statement today that emphasizes how necessary a 2030 target is:

Washington State was the first in the nation to pass a 2030 vehicle electrification goal through both legislative chambers this year. Unfortunately, while Governor Inslee signed the underlying legislation into law this morning, he vetoed the section on clean cars. According to a statement from the governor’s office, the veto arose from concerns about an amendment to the bill advanced by Sen. Steve Hobbs tying the 100% zero emissions vehicles goal to a road usage charge. While we respect and share that concern, we still believe strongly — as do a majority of legislators and the people of Washington — that we cannot lose sight of this critical goal.

To meet the goals set forth in President Biden’s climate proposal, we must, as a nation, cut gasoline consumption in half by 2030. The passage of Clean Cars 2030 would have significantly reduced carbon emissions and created a safer, healthier future for all.

Coltura will continue to work with the governor’s office to advance vehicle electrification policy in the state. After the dust settles from this legislative session, we hope the governor will consider setting a goal by executive order for all new vehicles to be electric by 2030.

Electrek’s Take

Well, this is quite disappointing. We nearly preemptively wrote an article this morning about the bill being signed, since nobody really expected this veto.

And while Inslee’s statement seems reasonable on its face, there’s a lot in it that doesn’t make sense. If he supported a 2030 ban nationally, why did he veto it in Washington state? If he thinks punitive EV fees are necessary to solve the oh-so pressing problem of a 1% drop in gas tax revenue, then why not a road usage fee for a more equitable and sustainable solution?

Inslee’s office told us that this veto was about not wanting to delay this work further by waiting for a road usage charge to be implemented. But by vetoing the bill and asking the legislature to come up with more specifics does delay that work further. Had the bill been signed, then the legislature and the executive would both have signaled that they are together on getting this work done. In the bill, the legislature told the executive that they should start drawing up plans for these regulations now, in order to get all stakeholders onboard, ensure fair implementation, and notify everyone as early as possible that this is happening.

Now we need to wait until the next legislative session to reach that kind of agreement again. That’s another year wasted, another year of time that we do not have to spare in fighting this climate emergency. And another year of time that this effort could have percolated through other states, influencing them, raising the bar in such a way that other environmental leaders could have tried to clear (I’m looking at you, California).

So there’s something lingering behind this statement that just doesn’t feel right to me. If you want clean cars as soon as possible, say it with your whole chest. There’s the bill, right in front of you, ready to go, ready to make you a national (or even global) leader in cutting the biggest single chunk of the average Washingtonian’s emissions.

Transportation makes up 45% of Washington state’s emissions, the largest sector. More than half of transportation emissions are from light-duty vehicles, the very cars covered in this bill. And with Washington’s incredibly low-carbon electrical grid fueled mostly by hydropower, that means Washington could have eliminated about a fifth or a quarter of their emissions with one sweep of the pen.

So, sure, if Gov. Inslee doesn’t like tying bills together when he thinks they should be separate, that’s one thing. But that hardly seems like a good excuse for kicking this can down the road, sacrificing a year of progress – or perhaps 5 years, if we end up settling on a too-late 2035 goal. Especially when leadership like this can affect not just the nation’s but the whole world’s reaction to this climate emergency.

We absolutely agree and sympathize with the reasoning that we can’t delay implementation of a policy like this. We just think that that’s what Gov. Inslee’s veto just did – delayed implementation of a policy like this.

Let’s hope to see an executive order, or another bill, ASAP, with the same target date.

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