Why Washington Is Violating Its Clean Car Legislation

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Originally published on the ECOreport

In 2007 the state of Washington passed what may be the most progressive electric vehicle law on the planet. Vehicles belonging to the state should have been using electric or biofuel powered vehicles by 2015. Every city, county and local public entity was to achieve this by June 1, 2018. Unfortunately, no steps were taken to implement this legislation. Matthew Metz is the co-executive director of Coltura and the lead author of the white paper “Recharge Recommended,” which explains why Washington is violating its clean car legislation and how this can be remedied.

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Seattle: The Bright Spot

“In general most jurisdictions aren’t even close to compliance. The vast majority of their vehicles, +99%, are run on gas or diesel,” explains Metz.

Cities like Yakima and Auburn have yet to purchase a single EV. Bellingham has one. Whatcom and Clark counties do not use any EVs.

“There’s a few exceptions, the city of Seattle is doing a pretty good job, especially in the passenger vehicle area.”

Seattle purchased 178 EVs. Roughly 26% of the city’s passenger vehicles are electric.

Washington State’s Successes & Failures

Recharge Recommended details the state government’s successes and failures:

“The state fleets surveyed are comprised of more than 97% gas or diesel-fueled vehicles … On December 7, 2015, Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced the “Washington State Electric Fleets Initiative” which required that 20% of all new passenger vehicle purchases be electric by 2017. Based on the state fleet data sampled, Washington State government exceeded the 20% benchmark in 2017. The Department of Enterprise Services (which operates more than half of the state’s fleet), however, planned 52 gas car purchases and only three electric car purchases in 2018, falling well short of the Governor’s targets. The Department of Natural Resources plans to purchase five cars in 2018, all electric.”

Metz says, “They only have one person in charge of complying with the law in the department of Commerce, so it is grossly understaffed. The Department of Enterprise services, which manages the fleet for more than half of state vehicles … [has] a committed person in charge of purchasing. They purchase for a lot of state agencies, but a lot of times the end user requests trumps that.”

[For example,]”Someone in the Department of Parks will say we need this kind of vehicle. We need a pick-up.  Or they describe a use case which may be difficult for electric vehicles to follow, such as high ground clearance or four wheel drive. Those are significant barriers as well.”

Why Washington Is Violating Its Clean Car Legislation

“In general, most jurisdictions are unaware of the law, or don’t believe they have to comply with it or think it is mostly just aspirational. Only 4 of the 31 jurisdictions that were surveyed actually have a plan for electrifying their fleet. And fewer than 1% of vehicles owned by public entities in the state are electric.”

“I think there is a lack of familiarity with the law; a lack of need to comply; a strong bias in favor of the status quo. I think those are the three main factors. Each jurisdiction is going to vary a little bit, but in general I think that is the case.”

“A lot of the fleet managers came up as diesel mechanics. That is what they know; that is what they are comfortable with.  Shifting to electric is something of a cultural shift for them, that they have not been prepared to make.”

Not Interested In Nissan Leafs

In Recharge Recommended, Metz and his associates compare the real costs of a Nissan Leaf, hybrid Ford CMax, and gas powered Ford Focus. Though the Leaf’s acquisition cost is slightly higher, over the course of a decade it will have only a fraction of the fuel or maintenance costs. When you factor this in, Leaf owners could save about $11,0000 over the gas powered car.

So why aren’t Washington’s local and state governments buying more Leafs and other EVs?

Metz explains, “In general, Leafs are a sideshow in government. No one is really interested in them. They aren’t politically sexy and so whatever happens to them is of minimal interest to most public officials. So even a lot of jurisdictions in Washington who are supposedly very eager to take on climate change and very concerned about it, that doesn’t fall through to implementation with respect to Leafs.”

Going Forward

Metz does not expect the state and local governments to come into compliance with their EV law overnight.

“As fleets replace their older vehicles, they need to replace them with electrics … If there were a determined effort to comply with the law, by 230 all vehicles could and should be electric.”

In Recharge Required, Metz lays out a series of policy recommendations for implementing Washington’s adoption of  clean cars:

  • “The health and climate costs of air and carbon pollution caused by gasoline vehicles should be factored into the total cost of ownership calculation. The American Lung Association calculates those costs at $1.15 per gallon.
  • ” … Regulations need to strictly define under what circumstances a gas vehicle can be purchased over an electric one. The ability to satisfy unusual or occasional uses with other fleet vehicles (such as annual trip of 300 miles or occasional rough road use) should be considered when considering non-EV purchases.
  • “An auditing system and meaningful penalties for governments that are in violation of the law would encourage compliance. Such penalties could include being barred from purchasing fuel and vehicles under state master purchasing contracts.”
  • “To facilitate public oversight of fleet purchasing, planned vehicle purchases should be published in a prominent location on the jurisdiction’s website 60 days prior to the actual purchase, absent exigent circumstance. The notice of intended purchase should provide information as to the vehicle to be replaced, the proposed replacement purchase, and, if the proposed vehicle is not electric, stated reasons why not.”

Photo credits: I-5 southbound traffic approaching Downtown Seattle by SounderBruce via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); various graphs taken from Coltura’s white paper “Recharge Required“; Coltura’s associated infogram

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Roy L Hales

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the Cortes Currents (formerly the ECOreport), a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of British Columbia. He is a research junkie who has written over 2,000 articles since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

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