Ahead of spring, gas prices on the rise in Washington state


Washington state drivers may have noticed an increase in the price at the pump recently.

On Monday, the average cost for a gallon of gas in the Evergreen State increased to nearly $4.31 per gallon — up 40 cents compared to a month ago, according to AAA.

The national average is $3.46 a gallon. 

There are several factors at play when it comes to rising gas prices in Washington, including the fact that Tuesday marks the official start of spring. Historically, March and April bring higher gas prices as demand rises due to milder temperatures that bring about more road trips this time of year, a precursor to the summer driving season. 

Increasing geopolitical instability in Eastern Europe, a persistent global supply crunch, and workforce constraints also impact gas prices, per the American Petroleum Institute.

U.S. refineries have also been less active so far in 2024, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In fact, BP's 435,000 barrel-per-day Whiting, Ind., refinery just recently returned to normal operations for the first time since a February plantwide power outage. 

Then there's the impact of the 2021 Climate Commitment Act that created a market-based cap-and-trade program to require the state's largest polluters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon auctions started in 2023 and have brought in more than $2 billion so far. 

CCA opponents argue carbon auctions have driven up gas prices as much as 50 cents a gallon, costing drivers hundreds of dollars a year.

Critics contend Gov. Jay Inslee was less than truthful when he predicted the CCA's impact on gas prices would be "pennies" per gallon, even though there seems to be some evidence he knew long before the CCA became a reality that it would significantly hike the cost of gas.

Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, is a supporter of the CCA. He told The Center Square the 50-cents-a-gallon figure is not accurate and that Washingtonians support the environmental goals of the CCA. 

“What affects my constituents is climate change," Billig said. "I mean six or seven years ago, there was no wildfire smoke and now it’s one of the biggest public health and negative events that we have each year.”

Billig says Democrats, who control both chambers of the state Legislature, want to address climate change goals in a way that has little impact on consumers.

He noted efforts are underway to try to link Washington's carbon market to the larger joint California-Quebec carbon market that could mean lower allowance prices. 

“But for us to stick our heads in the sand and say we’re not gonna take responsibility for our part in climate change; no that’s not what I believe is in the best interest of most Washingtonians," Billig said.

Hanging over the CCA like a modern Sword of Damocles is Initiative 2117 to repeal the CCA and get rid of the state's carbon market. Voters will decide I-2117 this November. 

Asked if lawmakers have contingency plans should voters pass I-2117, Billig replied, “From a funding standpoint, there are a couple different impacts if CCA is repealed.”

He went on to say, "CCA generates revenue for the state, and I think it will be most evident in transportation, and since the transportation budget is already under duress if this passes, there will be a complete review of everything in transportation.”

Projects and programs funded by the CCA won't go away if I-2117 is approved by voters this fall, according to the senator, who is not running for re-election.

“Some of the things being funded by CCA are very popular, and they will stay, and that will mean other things don’t," Billig said. 

Everything in transportation will be re-evaluated and then re-prioritized, he explained, if voters give the nod to I-2117.

“That money wasn’t there a couple years ago, but it’s there now, and guess what: those projects are not going away, and it’s absolutely a Republican talking point to say that the repeal of the CCA is not going to impact everything in transportation," Billig said. “That’s just not based in reality."

The CCA's impact on gas prices in Washington is overstated by opponents, he insisted. 

“It’s between 20-30 cents in Washington compared to Oregon or the national average, and my point is that while that is significant and we should work hard to make that lower, that is not the driver of gas taxes," Billig said. “This characterization that somehow CCA is a major driver of gas prices is just not true.”