Washington Ecology Department forms task force to address farmer fuel surcharge

The Washington Department of Ecology is forming a task force to examine a fuel surcharge plaguing state farmers.

The Climate Commitment Act of 2021, or the cap-and-trade law, which passed the state Legislature and was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021, exempts farms from a fuel surcharge, though fuel suppliers are still charging many of them.

The Ecology task force will meet throughout the summer to address this.

“The purpose of the new working group is to make sure we’re hearing from both farmers and fuel suppliers as the cap-and-invest program develops, that we have a forum to hear and discuss any issues that come up, and to continue to work toward getting every agricultural and marine fuel user in the state the full exemption they are entitled to,” Cap-and-Invest Policy Relations Director Claire Boyte-White told The Center Square.

The Washington Policy Center estimates farmers are paying $33 million in diesel alone this year for the charge.

Boyte-White said no farmer should be paying extra fees on their fuel.

“The Legislature specifically exempted these fuels from the Climate Commitment Act, and we have provided fuel suppliers with guidance and documentation to properly track these exemptions,” she said. “A growing number of fuel suppliers are providing the exemptions called for in state law, so any farmer who is still seeing extra fees should shop around and find a lower cost provider.”

The outcomes of the workgroup will depend on the content of its discussions, Boyte-White said.

The cap-and-trade law, which took effect at the beginning of the year, requires emitters to obtain “emissions allowances” equal to their covered greenhouse gas emissions. Similar to stocks and bonds, these allowances can be obtained through quarterly auctions hosted by the Department of Ecology.

​​Some farmers blame the Ecology Department for failing to provide a way for suppliers to track and report exempt fuels.

The fee causes Washington dairy farmer Jason Vander Kooy $400 to $500 per day.

“It’s frustrating because we work every day of the week, hour after hour,” Vander Kooy told King 5 News. “You're trying to keep the farm afloat. Then all these extra burdens keep getting placed on us. It's very discouraging.”

“Fuel is a significant cost of farming and fishing both in operating equipment but also in transporting materials and products,” states a news release from Save Family Farming, an agricultural organization headquartered in Everson. “The legislature required that all these costs be included in the exemption.”

The CCA adds about 39 cents to a gallon of gasoline and 47 cents per gallon for diesel, according to the Washington Policy Center.

In April, two Democratic state senators introduced legislation to protect farmers from increased fuel costs related to the Climate Commitment Act, but the bill did not make it past the committee stage.

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