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When Gov. Jay Inslee signed the new state transportation package into law last week, most assumed it meant an end to the controversy over a governor-imposed low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS). The package includes a “poison pill” insisted on by Senate Republicans that if Inslee signs an executive order on LCFS, certain transit and multi-modal transportation funding will be transferred to highway projects.

Most thought the poison pill meant the end of Inslee’s ambition to sidestep the Legislature and put an LCFS in place on his own. Now, the governor’s spokesman is putting that assumption in doubt.

Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times broke the story on Saturday:

Despite the poison-pill regulation, Inslee’s office has signaled he is still considering moving ahead on a low-carbon fuel standard. While that would trigger a shift in transit money, Inslee and his allies could gamble on a fight to restore the funding in a subsequent legislative session.

Publicola reported Monday that Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor is “meeting with stakeholders” to discuss putting an LCFS in place despite opposition and the poison pill. That would imperil the spending covered by the poison pill provision, but Inslee could gamble that the Legislature next year will add new funding for the cut programs.

Move would be a risk
It’s unclear, though, what motivation legislative Republicans would have to restore the funding. Critics, including many legislative Republicans, believe an LCFS would raise the price of gas without providing any appreciable environmental benefit.

More to the point, Inslee putting an LCFS in place after agreeing to the poison pill provision could severely damage any comity between Inslee and legislative Republicans. They pursued the provision as an insurance measure against an executive order, one many Republicans needed to feel comfortable voting yes on the transportation package.

Allies are nervous

The idea that Inslee might sign an LCFS order anyway and invoke the poison pill provision is making some allies nervous. Saying the transportation package included “historic investments” in “safe streets, new sidewalks and bike pathways,” the policy director of Washington Bikes told Publicola, “Now those investments are in jeopardy because of potential Governor action on a low carbon fuel standard.”

The Cascade Bicycle Club, a major presence in Seattle politics, told its members in an e-mail Tuesday, “While we applaud the governor’s commitment to combating climate change, it should not come at the cost of all of the funding for bicycling he and the legislature just approved.”

If Inslee backs off his LCFS threat, a ballot initiative remains a possibility for supporters.

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