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How Clean Fuel Standards Benefit Washington Communities

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July 20, 2021

Our region is an emerging hub on the Pacific Rim. With the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, a vibrant business ecosystem, and experiences that demand exploring from dining and culture to the outdoors, the Puget Sound region is growing rapidly. Seattle’s population alone expanded 22 percent in the last decade. 

At the Port of Seattle, we view the growth of the region as a success story, as our booming economy and high quality of life attract more and more residents to the area. We also recognize these benefits come with challenges including risks to our climate and our health. 

For example, in Washington state, the transportation sector including aviation, cars, trucks, boats, and trains, is responsible for 40 percent of the state’s carbon (greenhouse gas) emissions, the pollution that causes global warming. Moreover, on-road and off-road vehicles emit more than 90 percent of the region’s diesel particulate, pollution that may increase risk for diseases such as asthma, cardio-vascular diseases, and even premature death.  (Sources: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and the Environmental Protection Agency)   

As the operator of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and the region’s largest seaport, the Port is deeply invested in reducing these harmful air emissions. Fortunately, our state recently passed key legislation to create the Clean Fuels Program (E3SHB 1091) to reduce both carbon and diesel particulate pollution and advance the clean energy economy in our region. 

Similar to successful programs in both Oregon and California, the Clean Fuels Program requires reductions in the carbon emissions associated with transportation fuels. These requirements create strong incentives to increase the production and use of renewable fuels such as renewable diesel (RD), electricity, renewable natural gas, and even sustainable aviation fuel for our transportation needs.  

Renewable fuels can reduce up to 100 percent of “lifecycle” carbon emissions (Source: GNA Clean Transportation and Energy Consultants), and both renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel can reduce harmful particulate pollution by 30 to 70 percent.  (Sources: Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, and STATE OF THE INDUSTRY REPORT ON AIR QUALITY EMISSIONS FROM SUSTAINABLE ALTERNATIVE JET FUELS.  Prepared for: ACRP 02-80 Transportation Research Board of The National Academies).

Both California and Oregon created strong demand for these fuels through legislation that sets standards for cleaner fuels. These policies, referred to as a Low Carbon Fuel Standard in California and a Clean Fuel Standard in Oregon, have dramatically increased the demand and hence availability of RD, renewable natural gas, and other renewable fuels at much lower prices than we currently see here in Washington.  

For example, California consumes more than 500 million gallons of RD per year at an average price of approximately $1.60/gallon, significantly lower than the current price of even ultra-low sulfur diesel ($2.85/gallon) (Sources: GNA Case Study, Renewable Diesel. February 11, 2020, and U.S. Energy Information Administration)  Alternatively, the Port of Seattle currently pays a price premium for RD compared to diesel.

As we confront the urgency of climate change, the Port will continue to advocate and support carbon reduction strategies, including policies that create cleaner air for our families and communities and generate new opportunities and jobs within the green economy.  

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