Spokane Journal of Business

Idaho gas stations fill up with Spokane drivers

High gas prices in Washington drive more residents to pumps across border

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As gas prices in Washington remain among the country’s highest, more Evergreen State residents are crossing state lines to fill up their tanks.

Dave Nagra, who co-owns the Amerimart Convenience Store and gas station in State Line, Idaho, says about 70% of the customers buying gas at that station are from Washington.

“As long as Washington’s prices are so high, people are going to keep coming,” he says.

The difference is worth the drive for some, as long lines full of Washington residents form at the State Line Amerimart on a daily basis, Nagra says.

“That’s why we’re adding extra pumps,” Nagra says, pointing at a construction site on the gas station’s property.

Over the course of about an hour last week, cars were lined up waiting for pumps to become available, and the vast majority of those vehicles had Washington license plates. Some Washingtonians could be seen filling up tanks of heavy equipment machinery they were towing.

As of Aug. 1, the average regular gas price for Washington state was $4.96 per gallon, the second highest per-gallon average price in the U.S. behind California, which hit $5.01 per gallon the same day, according to the American Automobile Association. Washington had the nation’s highest average gas price a month ago, AAA data shows.

Idaho’s gas prices, on the other hand, were over a dollar cheaper per gallon than in Washington. Idaho’s average cost per gallon of regular gas was $3.95, and the national average was $3.78.

While the disparity is greater when comparing statewide data than it is at the Washington-Idaho border, the gap is still notable. Regular gas prices hovered around $4.66 in Liberty Lake last week, while prices were closer to $3.88 a gallon four miles away in State Line and Post Falls.

Jim Redmon, owner and president of Spokane-based Divine Corp., says the company’s Liberty Lake convenience store, which operates as a 76 gas station, has felt the impact of the high gas prices this year.

“Our numbers are definitely down compared to the year before,” Redmon says.

Redmon says Washington state’s “carbon tax,” which was implemented at the beginning of the year, is to blame for the high prices, and that his business in Liberty Lake is being negatively impacted because of it.

“I don’t think Washingtonians knew what they were agreeing to when they said yes to a carbon tax,” Redmon says. “From a business standpoint, it’s really hard for us to maintain a good business in the state of Washington when we’re being taxed like this. And Idaho’s not doing that.”

While sales have decreased some for Redmon’s Liberty Lake location, he says many of his customers still fill up there out of convenience. That isn’t the case for all his customers, however.

“There’s a certain customer that’ll drive across town for a penny,” Redmon says.

Nagra says the increase in Washingtonians heading eastbound in search of more affordable gas began around the beginning of this year, when Washington’s Climate Commitment Act went into effect.

The Climate Commitment Act, described as a cap-and-invest program by the state’s Department of Ecology, limits the volume of emissions that the state’s largest greenhouse gas producers can release. 

Those producers, which include many oil companies, can purchase emission allowances at quarterly auctions. Each emission allowance permits the buyer to produce one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions, according to Washington’s Department of Ecology website. The number of allowances available to these companies decreases each year to assure Washington reaches its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

Revenue from the allowance auctions will be used to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state, according to Ecology.

Peter Godlewski, a government affairs director at the Association of Washington Business, says the Climate Commitment Act is a big reason behind the high gas prices in Washington.

“A strong portion of those cost differences have been a result of this policy going into place,” Godlewski says. “The price hikes in Washington started around Jan. 1, which is when the program was set to implement.”

The cost of the carbon tax is about 43 cents per gallon following the second quarter allowance auction, Godlewski says.

“We’re not asking (legislators) or even arguing that the program should be taken away or removed,” Godlewski says. “We just think there needs to be some thoughtful reforms to make the program work better and smooth out both the cost increases on businesses and consumers to give everyone time to adapt.”

In a post on Medium by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, Inslee says that the high gas prices are a result of large oil companies, like Exxon Mobile Corp., Shell Energy North America LP, and Chevron USA Inc., driving up prices despite bringing in record profits through the first quarter of 2023.

“We’re not against profits but we’re against price gouging,” Inslee says in the post. 

The governor suggests that oil companies are using the carbon tax as an excuse to raise gas prices in Washington and calls for more transparency from those companies.

“We should not yield an inch to these rapacious oil and gas companies that are now using (the Climate Commitment Act) as an excuse,” he says.

Godlewski says AWB doesn’t agree with Inslee’s comments, however.

“We think that the fact that these price hikes started in January when the program started, suggest very strongly this is tied to a Washington-specific program,” Godlewski says. “We would dispute that this is the result of price gouging by any one industry.”

Godlewski says that in the context of driving down emission output in Washington, the Climate Commitment Act is working, but he says Inslee wasn’t honest with voters about how much of an impact it would have on them.

“These policies that he and his administration have enacted over the past six years, which are pushing us toward a net-zero state, are going to have costs not just for the business community, but also for consumers, and it’s going to be expensive.”

Dylan Harris
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Reporter Dylan Harris has worked at the Journal since 2021. Dylan, who was born and raised in Spokane, enjoys watching sports, cooking, and spending time with his family.

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