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WA gas prices stabilize above $5 amid $919.5 million carbon tax windfall

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(The Center Square) – Washington state fuel prices are rising again, but slower than in previous weeks. Despite the increase, California is still king when it comes to price at the pump, beating out the Evergreen State by 21 cents this week.

As of Monday, the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded in Washington was sitting at $5.04 per gallon statewide, which is up from $5.02 the week prior, according to AAA data. Per AAA, the average price of gas in California this week is $5.25 per gallon, up from $5.15 the week prior.

Washington’s 2-cent per gallon increase moved with the national average, which rose from $3.85 to $3.86 per gallon, a 1-cent per gallon increase over the same time period. This 1-cent per gallon increase is a slowdown from the previous week’s 3-cent per gallon increase, and the 7-cent per gallon increase from two weeks ago.

Washington’s $5.04 per gallon is $1.18 per gallon higher than the national average of $3.86 per gallon. It is also $1.73 per gallon above the nation’s least expensive fuel cost of $3.31 per gallon, currently paid by Mississippi residents.

Intra-state variance in Washington remains high at $1.08 per gallon, though down 25 cents per gallon from the week prior. The outliers this week were again San Juan and Asotin counties, representing the most and least expensive gas prices statewide at $5.54 and $4.46 per gallon, respectively.

This price variance still largely follows the Cascade Range, with residents to the west paying a higher premium at the pump than residents to the east.

Some experts think there’s a legislative component to the relatively high cost of Washingtonians’ fuel, as previously reported by The Center Square, citing the state’s cap and trade carbon tax program implemented on Jan. 1.

“They claimed the program would cost ‘pennies,’ but Washington’s consumers are now paying 50 cents per gallon for just the cap-and-trade program,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, Western States Petroleum Association president, in a statement to The Center Square.

One Democrat, Senator Mark Mullet, agrees this price is too high, having recently introduced state legislation to cap the price of these auctions.

Gov. Jay Inslee disagrees with Mullet on where the blame lies.

“No, they’re not passing [it] on,” replied Inslee during a recent press conference, suggesting none of the recent price increases have been due to the state’s new cap-and-trade policy.

The governor’s spokesperson, Mike Faulk, thought Inslee’s comments needed further clarification.

“The governor does not deny that the Climate Commitment Act’s cost impacts are likely more than the projections he based his past comments on. The projections did not anticipate the oil companies trying to pass along as much vaguely defined compliance cost onto the consumer,” said Faulk in an email to The Center Square.

The third quarterly carbon auction is set to take place on Aug. 30, but prices in the second auction were deemed too high.

This triggered the Allowance Price Containment Reserve clause of the cap-and-trade law, adding an emergency price containment auction that took place Aug 9.

The preliminary results from that auction are in, and it resulted in a total sale of all available shares to the tune of $62.5 million. Adding that figure to the $857 million that regular quarterly auctions have generated yields a grand total of $919.5 million in proceeds for the cap-and-trade program so far.

That’s just over $4 million per day year-to-date collected by the Department of Ecology for the new carbon tax.

Brett Davis contributed to this report.

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