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Gov. Inslee saves bike/walk/transit funding, will create carbon cap rather than swallow ‘poison pill’

AboutJayIt was a weird day when biking, walking and (some) transit advocates were arguing against clean fuel standards, but that was the trap political opponents of Governor Jay Inslee set in the state’s new transportation funding laws.

A so-called “poison pill” inserted into the law said that if the Governor takes executive action to enact a clean fuels standard, about $2 billion in multimodal funding would go to the highway fund instead. That money includes an unprecedented $700 million for walking and biking safety and access projects like Safe Routes to School, funding for the Northgate Station Bridge, money to completely remake the Burke-Gilman Trial through UW and much more (see the full lists in these PDFs: Walk/bike and transit).

When Inslee announced he would sign a transportation package that included the poison pill so legislators could move forward in their late session, most assumed he was giving up the clean fuel standard. So it came as a surprise to safe streets and multimodal transportation advocates when he told the Seattle Times that he was considering swallowing the pill. After all, more biking, walking and transit are good for clean air, too.

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Washington Bikes — with the support of Transportation Choices Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club and this very blog — launched an all-out campaign to get Inslee to drop the clean fuels standard to save the funding they worked hard to staple onto the massive highway spending bill. $700 million might be unprecedented state funding for bike/walk projects, but it’s pennies compared to the total $16.1 billion price tag, most of it for new and expanded highways.

Inslee announced Tuesday that he’s going a different direction on reducing carbon emissions. Rather than a clean fuels standard (already in place in Oregon and California), he’s going to develop a regulatory carbon cap. Though it would not be a complete cap-and-trade system (that would take an act of law, not just executive action), it “would force a significant reduction in air pollution,” according to an official statement.

“In talking about the terrible choice the Senate imposed on the people of Washington – clean air or buses and safe sidewalks – I heard broad agreement that we need both clean transportation and clean air,” Inslee said in the press release. “I appreciate the commitment I heard from many to work with me to ensure our state meets its statutory carbon reduction limits.”

WA Bikes applauded Inslee’s choice, and even create a handy form you can use to thank him. Here’s the sample letter you can send (or, of course, you can change it and send your own):

I write to thank you for listening to the thousands of caring Washingtonians who want more investments in biking, health, and safer schools statewide. The biking and safety investments contained in the transportation revenue package will fund hundreds of necessary health and safety projects in communities and schools statewide.

I applaud you for looking for the win-win by achieving your carbon emission reduction goals and retaining biking and walking safety investments (a stated priority in your own Healthiest Next Generation Initiative).

Thank you for making the right choice for our children.

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7 responses to “Gov. Inslee saves bike/walk/transit funding, will create carbon cap rather than swallow ‘poison pill’”

  1. Peri Hartman

    I sent this on to WA Bikes:

    HI Gov. Inslee.

    Just like you, I want to find ways to limit use of carbon fuels and move on to better energy sources. Cap and trade would have been a great way to do that and encourage more solar, wind power, and various economizing approaches. But, as you obviously know, we also need to stop using cars as much. So I am so glad that you have agreed to preserve the funding recently approved for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit improvements. Now, thanks to you, we have the opportunity for both – better transportation and a cap on carbon.

  2. RC

    I am pro bike, pro transit and think government mandating “clean fuels” are a horrible idea, so I am very happy with this outcome. The so called clean fuels usually aren’t and create all kinds of poor market distortions. I would also prefer a straight carbon tax to a cap, but at least this allows some market based innovation in the clean energy sector instead of picking winners and losers.

    1. Gary

      A straight up carbon tax is the way to go, but it needs to be a national tax, not just a state wide one. Cap and trade plans are horrible abominations.

      1. Gary,
        why do you consider cap-n-trade to be a “horrible abomination?” In case of well-functioning markets it should be rather similar to the carbon tax. The main difference I see is that in case of tax we start with an economic point of view (1t carbon costs you xxx$) while case of cap-n-trade we start with the environmental viewpoint (we don’t permit more than yyy t of carbon). On should end up in a rather similar price and quantity in both cases.

        Agree, it should be national (or even better, global).

  3. Harrison Davignon

    It is ashame politicians made this bill, but at the same time this is the friendliest they have ever been too us. Increasing the budget for alternative transportation from 1 too 6 percent. Thanks inslee for taking perhaps a once and life time opportunity to make things better for our current generation and future generations. No money to repair roads will make things unsafe. Hopefully one day that will be fixed. Thanks also to inslee for trying another way to lower carbon pollution and health problems. Hopefully we can get clean fuels at some point.

  4. […] a Faustian bargain that put some transit and safe streets advocates at odds. But Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog reports that Inslee found another […]

  5. Clark in Vancouver

    He’s smart.

    This thing that happens in The States where a political opponent can insert a clause into a bill to mess it up is so weird. (I don’t know if Canada has such an ability but I’ve never heard of it.) It allows big money interests to mess with things that they can’t profit from.

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