Governor signs Rivers’ bill on fuel switch for publicly owned vehicles

Sen. Ann RiversLegislation introduced by Sen. Ann Rivers to balance air-quality concerns with the fiscal realities facing local governments completed its legislative journey Tuesday when Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5099 in a Capitol ceremony.

Rivers’ bill acknowledges the challenges associated with converting fleets of publicly owned vehicles, vessels and construction equipment toward biofuel and electric power sources. State agencies are to make the switch by June 2015; while local governments get an additional three years to get into compliance, that’s still a tall order, the La Center Republican said.

“The trouble is, some vehicles just aren’t available yet with electric power or the ability to use biofuel and even what’s available is prohibitively expensive,” Rivers said. “I don’t want Washington residents to see their utility rates or local taxes go up just because the state can’t be reasonable when it comes to what powers emergency vehicles, for instance.”

The change is expected to mean hundreds of millions of dollars in savings, Rivers added, and help spare cities and counties from having to decide between buying a law-enforcement vehicle that complies with state law and hiring a law-enforcement officer.

“If the choice is humans or machines – between boots on the street and tires on the street – I think the preference should be for the boots,” she said.

The new law will have the state Department of Commerce convening an advisory committee to develop rules to guide the fleet fuel-conversion effort. Also, local governments will have the option of pursuing exemptions for police, fire, and other emergency-response vehicles; certain engine retrofits will be exempt, and local governments won’t be forced to replace equipment prematurely.

“For a local government that has seen its revenue plummet in recent years due to the economic recession, this change in the law could be the best news of the year,” said Rivers.

To build support for her bill Rivers navigated between the interests of cities, the governor’s office, the environmental community and other stakeholders. As a result SB 5099 received near-unanimous votes in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“Where we ended up is a place that the cities have described as being more reasonable and definitive, and I think that’s reflected by the backing this received,” said Rivers.

Tuesday was the final day for measures from this year’s regular legislative session to receive Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature.