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Washington farmers fight back on illegal fuel surcharge

Farmers are exempt from a costly fuel surcharge being passed on to them by distributors.

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. — It's the quiet part of the season at Jason Vander Kooy's Mount Vernon dairy farm, but he still burns through 250 gallons of diesel on an average day.

"It is something that we need and to be charged extra for it, that's the frustrating part," says Vander Kooy.

This year, a fuel surcharge attached to the state's Climate Commitment Act went into effect -- designed to cut greenhouse emissions through a carbon capturing plan. 

One key reason it passed through the legislature is that it exempts farms from the fee. But some fuel distributors are passing the charge on to farmers.

Vander Kooy says one of them is Marathon Petroleum.

Months after farmers sounded the alarm, the surcharge is still costing Vander Kooy an extra 68 cents per gallon -- up to $500 a day.

That's 30 cents more than the surcharge was in May.

"You know, we're here working every day, just trying to make a living and produce quality food," says Vander Kooy. "It's almost like we're being punished for working."

Farmers blame the Washington state Department of Ecology for a flawed system they say provides no way for suppliers to track and report exempt fuels, so they simply pass the cost on to customers.

The law also has no teeth and no fines for suppliers who flaunt it.

The Washington Policy Center says the state's farmers are paying an additional $33 million in diesel, alone, this year. 

"I can't pass this cost on to somebody else," says Vander Kooy. "I am the guy at the end of the line."

But now farmers are fighting back. 

"Distributors are picking the pockets of farmers and they're justifying it by saying the refineries pick their pocket," says Dan Wood, executive director of the Washington Dairy Farm Federation. "Justifying theft because someone stole from you is a very poor strategy."

The federation is publishing the names of fuel distributors who are not adding the surcharge. So far there are nine of them across the state.

"So, our expectation is the rest of them will stop charging the farmers, or they will lose their customers," says Wood.

Meantime, the fall harvest is coming, and Vandr Kooy expects his fuel costs to double.

"It makes it tougher and tougher to farm in Washington state," he said.

A spokesman for Marathon Petroleum sent KING 5 a statement that read, in part:

"We are committed to adhering to the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Cap and Invest program. Our teams are working diligently to follow the guidelines set forth by the State of Washington to determine the types of documents required, in order for the multiple clientele and resellers serviced by our direct customers, to claim a fuel has been used for a Cap and Invest program exempt purpose."

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