Washington lawmakers considering biodiesel mandate

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Washington is poised to become the second state in the nation to mandate the use of ethanol and biodiesel. Legislation backed by Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire and Democratic leaders in both houses sets a deadline for requiring gasoline and diesel sold in Washington to be mixed with fuels made from farm crops.

According to the Seattle Times, the legislation would mandate that all gasoline sold in the state contain at least 2 percent ethanol and that 2 percent of all diesel sales be biodiesel by December 2008. Two versions of the bill that do essentially the same thing are moving through the Legislature, and one is expected to pass as soon as next week.

The Washington Trucking Association has raised concerns about what biodiesel could do to truck engines – and company schedules if trucks break down. The construction industry has similar concerns. “If you put it into an earthmover or bulldozer and you’re using it like crazy for four or five weeks and then your equipment sits for a month or more, the stability of the biodiesel is very questionable,” says Duke Schuab, a lobbyist for Associated General Contractors of Washington. “It separates and you can’t use it.”

Minnesota, the only state with similar laws already in place, temporarily suspended its biodiesel mandate this year because of problems with the quality of the fuel. Supporters of the Washington biodiesel legislation say the fuel would be required to meet strict standards to avoid the problems experienced in Minnesota.

Some people also wonder how many farmers are interested in growing the crops and whether they can gear up in time to produce enough biodiesel. Chad Kruger, outreach director for the Climate Friendly Farming Project at Washington State University, told the Times it’s true that farmers now are deciding what to plant. But Kruger says there’s so much uncertainty with biodiesel crops that “if legislation passes this session, I don’t think it will have much influence on who plants what.”