Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Cities may seek more delays on green fleet conversion

by November 9th, 2012

Does the lobbying organization for Washington’s cities want to push against a 2018 deadline to convert municipal vehicles to use alternative fuels? The Association of Washington Cities is pondering that question, and expects to be making a decision in early December, said Dave Williams, the organization’s director of state and federal relations. The next legislative session starts in early January, with education funding and another multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall both front and center. But a recent AWC draft memo to members stresses local concerns about rising fiscal pressures on cities, infrastructure and jobs concerns, and state mandates. It says a possible priority in the 2013 legislative session starting in January is to “further delay the deadline or modify the mandate for conversion of local government fleets to alternative fuel vehicles” past 2018.

In 2007, the legislature passed a law that all state and local government agencies – with the Washington Department of Commerce later determining the actual practicality – try to convert 100 percent of their vehicles and construction equipment so they can operate with biofuels or electricity by 2015. In 2009, the legislature allowed state agencies to reduce their alternative fuel goals to 40 percent by 2015. In 2011, the legislature pushed the deadline for local governments to reach their goals to June 1, 2018. In 2012, the legislature added natural gas, liquified natural gas and propane to the types of alternative fuels that local governments could convert to.

Williams said this overall measure would add significant costs to local governments with no clear plans on how to deal with it. Many vehicles, ranging from fire trucks to lawnmowers, might not be available in models that can be used with alternative fuels, he said.

State law requires that the commerce department has until 2015 to set up rules to nail down in more detail how local governments will reach those 2018 goals. In both the local and state agency compliance laws, the commerce department is supposed to look at the availability of the alternative fuels, the equipment requiring the fuels, and the costs.

The association is also interested in working with lawmakers to grow funding for roads and transit, public works, and jobs creation and retention, as well as cost cutting through eased state mandates. The AWC continues to discuss the upcoming legislative session with its members, with the final decisions on the legislative agenda to be made Dec. 7. “We’re in the process of trying to figure out in advance of the 2013 session which of these we would take to the legislature,” Williams said.

Potential AWC legislative agenda items to ease fiscal burdens on cities, according to the draft memo, are several. They could include creating new guidelines for binding interest arbitration; eliminating requirement on listing buildable lands in urban growth plans; clarifying that local governments can set standards for public defenders; changing the law so juries will know if a person involved in an injury accident was wearing a seatbelt; letting cities with good state audit records undergo less frequent audits; and changing or eliminating city requirements to send pavement condition reports and hotel-motel tax expenditure reports to the state.

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