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Sen. Steve Hobbs discusses decarbonization, transportation

Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens) was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to serve as Washington’s Secretary of State, leaving the legislature and his role as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. 

Hobbs will serve as Secretary of State until next November’s general election after outgoing Secretary Kim Wyman accepted a position with the Biden administration. Hobbs has been influential in negotiating transportation legislation, and has held his seat on a moderate Democrat platform. 

During a panel discussion on decarbonization hosted by Clean and Prosperous Washington on Wednesday, only hours after the appointment announcement, Hobbs spoke about his new role, and gave advice to his successor on the transportation committee. 

“If you want to improve the quality of life in Washington State, you have to improve the environment of Washington State,” Hobbs said. “You have to look at it holistically.” 

That improvement comes by working to decarbonize transportation, enhance fish and salmon habitat, and focusing on environmental restoration, Hobbs said. 

The federal infrastructure bill which passed last week will bring money to the state which can be used to remove fish passage culverts, an expensive and long-standing project required of the state. Hobbs said addressing challenges facing salmon has the potential to make the biggest difference in environmental policy. 

Hobbs also encouraged the new chair of the committee to prioritize bipartisanship in the role. 

“My hope is that whoever fills the chairmanship is someone who understands that you have to work across the aisle,” Hobbs said. 

Hobbs serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Washington State National Guard, and has represented the 44th Legislative District in the state Senate since 2007. Hobbs will be the first person of color to serve as Washington’s Secretary of State. 

On decarbonization 

Transportation is integrally tied to decarbonization. In Washington, the transportation sector accounts for nearly 45% of all greenhouse gas emissions, the largest single sector. Last session, the legislature passed the Clean Fuel Standard, which requires fuel supplies to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuels to 20% below 2017 levels by 2038. 

Much of the discussion during the decarbonization panel focused on ways to reduce emissions from school transportation, freight and trucking. 

Raymond K. Manalo, Jr., the Twin Rivers Unified School District’s vehicle maintenance manager, said his district runs the largest electric school bus fleet in North America, which serves 61 schools and some 27,000 students, about 5,000 of whom take their buses. 

The district has 43 electric buses, 36 natural or renewable gas buses, four gasoline buses and 65 diesel buses. Manalo said what has made their fleet of electric buses successful was a process of identifying stakeholders and goals, including student needs, air district requirements and state goals. 

A significant consideration was infrastructure for the electric buses. Manalo said during planning, they didn’t look far enough into the future, and ran out of power as soon as they received the electric buses. They’re currently working on infrastructure to facilitate 82 bus charges and share power with a sports complex. 

“Plan for the future,” Manalo said, and create more infrastructure — pipes, wire, energy — than may seem necessary. 

The rollout of electric vehicles will require significant investments in charging infrastructure, both for industrial and personal use. To really decarbonize electric vehicles, the power grid which is charging them must also run on cleaner fuels

The cost of electric vehicles is also a problem that companies and ports are thinking about. Gladys Gillis, CEO of Starline Collection, a charter bus company, said a new fuel-powered motorcoach sells for roughly $560,000. An electric equivalent can top more than $1.1 million. 

It’s an issue that Fred Felleman, president of the Port of Seattle Commission, said he’s seeing as well. Gas drayage trucks can be purchased for around $50,000, but a similar Tesla truck can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, well out of reach for many truck owners and drivers. 

Hobbs said there is also room to expand and support freight rail in the state, especially by improving short rail lines. He pointed to the PCC line in Eastern Washington, which has portions of the rail that are nearly 100 years old and need to be replaced. The top speed of that line is eight mph. 

Upgrading class two rails would allow trains to move up to 20 mph, doubling the amount of freight they could haul and taking hundreds of diesel trucks off of roads, Hobbs said. 

Lawmakers have signaled that during the 2022 legislative session, they will be focused on implementing several pieces of climate legislation that have passed in recent years. Sen. Reuven Carlyle said in a recent interview that he will be focused on making sure the HEAL Act, the Climate Commitment Act and the clean fuel standard are all implemented effectively. 

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