Update 2/18: These findings are part of the Cascadia Scorecard 2009, now available online.

Buying fuel is always a drag.  But in 2008, spending on fuel imports became a huge drag on the Northwest’s economy.

The chart to the right tells the story:  Based on preliminary data, it seems that the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho spent nearly $30 billion in 2008 to import fossil fuels from other parts of the world.

That’s an increase of more than one-third over 2007—which itself was the highest on record up to that point.

To put this number in somewhat more human terms, it works out to just under $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in the region—which easily tops per-capita spending at the height of the fuel crisis in the early 1980s.

The state-by-state bill, for those who care:  $16.6 billion for Washington, $9.4 billion for Oregon, and $3.6 billion for Idaho.

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  • Remember, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho produce almost no fossil fuels of their own.  The largest single source in the region—a coal mine in Centralia, Washington—was shuttered in late 2006.  Oregon still produces a tiny trickle of natural gas.  But that’s it.  Everything else we use—all the gas we use in our homes and businesses, all the coal at our power plants, all the oil in our cars and trucks—we buy from somewhere else.

    As a result, just about every dollar that we spend on fossil fuels means one less dollar to provide for the economic needs of local families and residents. (Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to be a major shareholder in an energy company.  For them, 2008 was a banner year!)

    If current price trends continue, the Northwest will see a much smaller fuel bill this coming year.  But that’s cold comfort:  prices that spike and then crater make it harder for businesses and families to plan their energy investments.  In the long run we’d be better off if fossil fuel prices were kept higher and stabler—and if more of the money we spent on energy could be kept locally, rather than skipping town.  (See our Cap & Trade primer for a rundown of how a smart climate policy can help do just that.)