Washington State Misses Biofuels Goal

Published August 1, 2009

The state of Washington failed to meet its self-imposed June 1 deadline to have biofuels provide 20 percent of the fuel used in state-owned vehicles.

According to the Washington Department of General Administration, the state fell far short of its goal, with biofuels comprising merely 2 percent of fuel used in state vehicles.

In 2006 Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) argued a 20 percent goal she inherited from her predecessor, Gary Locke (D), could be moved up to apply by June 1, 2009.

According to the state’s Department of General Administration, a blend of 20 percent biofuel and 80 percent petroleum-based diesel costs 33 cents per gallon more than conventional diesel. Conventional diesel delivers better mileage per gallon than biodiesel blends.

‘Unreasonable Deadlines’

State Rep. Dan Roach (R-Bonney Lake) said unrealistic expectations were the reason the state failed to meet its goal.

“The greatest flaw with this measure is that it provided an unworkable, top-down approach that dictated unreasonable deadlines we knew Washington state could not meet, even under the best of circumstances,” Roach explained.

“The answer to development of alternative fuel use is not more government mandates and bureaucracy. Government needs to step out of the way and let the private sector develop at its own pace, with supply and demand creating a sustainable market that doesn’t jeopardize food supply and ensures stability for growers, producers, and users,” Roach added.

Political Points

State Sen. Jerome Delvin (R-Richland) called attention to environmental concerns about biofuels and said Gregoire has supported those fuels merely to score political points.

“Even some environmentalists worry about the different gases in biofuels,” Delvin said. “Biofuels do affect air quality too.

“I think Gov. Gregoire put forth this deadline to please the environmentalists so she can say, ‘Look, we are leading the nation in being pro-environment.’ This deadline was a PR stunt that did not work,” Delvin said.

‘Environmental and Economic Disaster’

Kenneth Green, an environmental scientist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC, agrees with both of Delvin’s observations.

“Biofuels are an environmental and economic disaster,” Green said. “They pollute the air and the water. They increase greenhouse gas emissions. They raise the price of food. They lead to fish kills and contamination of fish stocks. And they require price subsidies, so they raise the price of everything overall.

“There is a lobby that wants to sell this,” Green added. “They do not care about the environmental damage, or how ethanol does damage to a car’s engine, or the high cost of biofuels. These environmental groups will not admit it in public, but what they want is for people to stop driving, so they wave this biofuels red herring around.”

Punishing the Poor

Dr. Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, a coalition of scientists, religious leaders, and human welfare advocates, considers Washington’s biofuels mandate especially dangerous to the world’s poor. Beisner believes state residents have benefited from the missed deadline.

“Washington residents should be grateful the state failed to meet its 20 percent biofuels goal. They saved some money. They also diminished the indirect harm to the world’s poor, who must pay more for basic food grains as more grain crops shift from food to fuel use,” said Beisner.

Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.