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Washington state wants a say in how you roll… when you go tire shopping

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Moment RF

The state’s Department of Commerce is looking to join California in taking the climate fight to where the rubber meets the road.

The next time you go shopping for replacement tires, the state of Washington could have greater sway over what’s on the rack. That’s provided the Legislature agrees to a request from the state Department of Commerce for the authority to regulate tire efficiency.

Auto owners may want to pay attention because the low rolling resistance tires that regulators want to promote typically cost more than budget tires. But over the lifetime of those tires, the average driver could save hundreds of dollars on gasoline.

“There are very few other transportation policies in the short-term that can reduce emissions by this magnitude,” said Senior Energy Policy Specialist Steven Hershkowitz during a state Commerce Department webinar Wednesday.

The Commerce Department hosted the public webinar to describe its energy policy priorities and requests ahead of the 2024 legislative session, which convenes on Jan. 8. The full text of the proposed tire regulation bill has not yet been introduced.

Government standards for vehicle tires traditionally have been set at the national level. But California legislators a few years ago gave their state energy department authority in this arena as part of a larger campaign to increase fuel efficiency and thereby reduce tailpipe emissions.

In Olympia, the Inslee administration shares those climate goals. So now, the state Department of Commerce is working with friendly legislators to get similar regulatory authority over tire standards. Hershkowitz said Washington wants to work in partnership with California on the issue rather than just be a bystander when potentially market-changing rules roll out.

The California Energy Commission is currently in the midst of a rulemaking proceeding to set minimum standards for rolling resistance along with setting up a rating system to help consumers compare tire efficiency. The new state standards would apply to replacement tires for passenger cars and light trucks. If adopted, the California rules would begin with what Hershkowitz described as a fairly easy-to-achieve standard in 2026 and then gradually get more stringent after 2028.

Neither California nor Washington proposes to regulate the original tires installed by manufacturers on new cars. Hershkowitz also said that specialty tires sold in low volumes, such as off-road tires, would also probably be exempt.

The California agency projected that the vehicle fuel efficiency gains drivers would achieve through its tire standards would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million metric tons per year in the state.

In California, the rubber industry and tire dealers raised concerns that likely will come up in Olympia as well.

“I maintain that these advancements should not come at the expense of California’s independent tire dealers and their customers,” wrote Mike Manges, editor of the Modern Tire Dealer trade journal, in an editorial.

“I still believe that a mandate could not only limit consumer choice, but also limit a dealer’s ability to sell what he or she wants — based on the customer’s budget and preference,” Manges continued. “Not all customers will be able to afford higher-priced tires that can meet or exceed whatever rolling resistance target the CEC will require.”

In answer to a question posed over Zoom on Wednesday, Hershkowitz said the interested public will have opportunities to influence the targets Washington may set if the Legislature grants his agency regulatory authority over tires.

“There would be a significant public engagement,” Hershkowitz said.

The proposed tire efficiency legislation is separate from a state Department of Ecology push to phase out a tire preservative that can kill salmon when tiny, toxic tire particles wash off roads into waterways. Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would pick up the baton and possibly regulate the tire chemical nationally.

Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.